Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Darius Stills lives up to hype; Bryce Ford-Wheaton redeems himself; COVID issues strike team, marching band

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU coach Neal Brown said it best — defensive lineman Darius Stills played the type of game everyone expected him to coming into the season.

The senior received a lot of praise in the offseason and was a part of many preseason award watch lists, and his name was not called many times during the first two games against Eastern Kentucky and Oklahoma State. But against Baylor, a team he famously called “soft” last season on national television, Stills broke out in a big way.

He finished with four tackles — 3 1/2 for loss — and had 2 1/2 sacks, and was a disruptive force all game long against BU quarterback Charlie Brewer.

 “I just try to get better every day and work on my craft,” Stills said. “I go in with a game plan that the coaches put in. I just started making plays and like every other day, did our job.”

Defensive line coach Jordan Lesley allowed Stills, who normally plays inside at nose tackle, to play defensive end, which allowed Stills to make more plays in space and work outside. The coaches know what Stills can bring to the table, but  Brown said Stills always showed up for game day. The problem was getting him to show up the rest of the week.

 “Darius has had two really good weeks of preparation,” Brown said. “Darius has flashed on and off his entire career on game day. Where we’ve been really pushing him is his preparation, taking care of his body, how he practices. If he’ll do that and really devote himself all week, not just on Saturdays, he’ll be productive, and then at the end of this year, he’ll get what  he wants — a chance to play at the next level.”

Ford-Wheaton’s redemption

It was a day to forget for sophomore wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton — a dropped pass, an unnecessary roughness penalty, capped off by running into punt return Alec Sinkfield, causing him to fumble the kick and was recovered by Baylor.

But it was Ford-Wheaton who may have played the offensive play of the game in the first overtime, hauling in fade route from quarterback Jarret Doege  over top the Baylor defender for the Mountaineers’ touchdown.

Brown said there is a fine line between putting in players that give you the best chance to win and trying to bring a young player along who makes mistakes. His philosophy is let a game play out and address the issues during the week of preparation.

 For Ford-Wheaton, that may have been his saving grace.

“Bryce is a long way from being a bench rider,”  Brown said. “He’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and he runs really well, but he’s still learning how to play. He didn’t play a lot last year and he came on toward the end of the year. Today wasn’t his best day, but he showed growth. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to find him on the sideline. Today, he’s in the huddle.”

COVID problems

For the second straight home game, big news broke before kickoff involving personnel for the Mountaineers.

Starting left guard James Gmiter announced on Twitter he tested positive for COVID-19 and would miss the Baylor game.

 “Man I wish more than anything to be out there with my brothers today on that field but I have to get better and recover from my positive COVID test … Ball out boys I’ll be cheering you guys on LETSSS GOOOO MOUNTAINEERS,” Gmiter tweeted.

Fairmont native and true freshman Zach Frazier got the start at left guard in Gmiter’s absence.

The Pride of West Virginia marching band was also supposed to be in attendance after missing the season opener vs. Eastern Kentucky, but the band announced it had two positive cases and due to contact-tracing, decided against performing at the stadium.

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