Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU football notebook: Tykee Smith impresses at ‘spear’ safety in JoVanni Stewart’s absense

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — JoVanni Stewart threw a wrench into the West Virginia defense’s plans when he decided not to play against Texas on Saturday due to “personal reasons.”

The Longhorns have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and having a starting safety sit is not ideal, but true freshman Tykee Smith stepped up at exactly the right time for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

“He got thrust into a really bad situation with JoVanni doing what he did,” Koenning said. “I think Tykee played an absolutely great game. We may be better athletically — well, not may, we are better athletically — with Tykee. He’s been able to give us things at that position that we couldn’t do before.”

Stewart left a void at “spear” safety, which is a position Smith hasn’t played much through the first four games. He did play at free safety and “cat” safety, which puts Smith is different spots all over the back end of the defense. Spear plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is backed up by the cat playing behind him, while the free is the last line of defense at the back end of the secondary.

That versatility helps him play each position, according to Koenning.

“His first practice at spear was Tuesday, and it was the best practice of anybody,” Koenning said. “I’m really proud of him and he did a great job. He should be getting a lot of praise and accolades for the job that he did, especially in the situation he got put in. Spear and cat each have to know what each other does because they play off of them, so he was able to know what the spear does because of his time at cat.”

Smith finished with five tackles and a pass breakup.

Cowan’s debut

With his four-game suspension up, Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan made his anticipated debut at “bandit” linebacker for the Mountaineers, which was a sore spot on defense through the first four games.

Quondarius Qualls was forced to play most of the snaps out of necessity because of lack of depth, so Cowan’s presence was a welcomed one and he made an immediate impact, finishing with four tackles and a sack.

“He made some plays, there’s going to be some good and some bad,” head coach Neal Brown said. “There were some negatives where he got out of position and it hurt us, but I thought he played really hard. He had encouraging plays, but we knew this as a staff going into it. It’s just been so long since he’s played — somebody told me it’s been 600-plus days since he’s actually played in a game. There’s some things to build off of, but he needs to be more disciplined in a lot of things. He showed the ability to under the lights to make some plays.”

Banged up

Wide receivers Sam James and Sean Ryan, as well as cornerback Keith Washington, left the game early because of injuries, though Brown doesn’t believe James’ or Washington’s to be serious.

The early prognosis on Ryan is a bit different.

“Sam had kind of an upper injury, but Sean … it doesn’t look as good, which is disappointing,” Brown said. “I hate it for him because he played really well. He had his best week of practice and the bye week was really good, but it looks like he’s going to be out for a few weeks.”

Ryan had five catches for 70 yards against the Longhorns. James had six catches for 66 yards, including a 44-yard fingertip touchdown grab on WVU’s first drive of the game.

Brown said he will have a better injury update on Tuesday during his weekly news conference.