Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU hopes to stop tackling issues this weekend against Kansas

MORGANTOWN — WVU head coach Neal Brown believes if there’s one thing his teams have done well during his tenure at WVU, it’s finishing tackles.

In the same breath, Brown also said the Mountaineers defense’s biggest issue at Pitt last week was finishing tackles.

“We have to tackle better,” Brown said. “That’s something we’ve done really well here and that’s the standard. We’ve been one of the top tackling teams in the conference and in the country. Especially late, we didn’t tackle very well.”

The most obvious was on the Panthers’ final offensive play, the game-tying touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to running back Israel Ibanikanda. A short pass over the middle should have been stopped short of the sticks, but instead turned into a touchdown after several WVU defenders couldn’t bring Ibanikanda down.

Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said it wasn’t an effort issue, but tackling needs to be solidified before the Mountaineers take on Kansas at 6 p.m. Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Jayhawks averaged nearly 10 yards per carry — 297 yards on 30 carries — last week against Tennessee Tech. Devin Neal led the way with 108 yards and two touchdowns, while Sevion Morrison added 70 yards and a score.

Ky Thomas is also in the mix, and the Minnesota transfer ran for 144 yards against WVU in last season’s bowl game.

Against Pitt, though, the Mountaineers held the Panthers to just 115 yards on 33 carries, an impressive feat considering Pitt’s change in philosophy this offseason as a run-first offense.

“We stopped the run. We controlled the line of scrimmage versus a group playing six and seven offensive linemen,” Brown said. “We got really good pressure on the quarterback.“

But the tackling issue is not just something the Mountaineers are dealing with. Lesley said the rule changes in practice are having an effect nationally.

“I’m never going to make an excuse for players or staff defensively, but you have to try to find a way to work it as full speed as you can,” Lesley said. “Everybody struggles and if you watch enough football over the weekend, you’re going to see it. It’s hard, but the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you play, the more you do it. So that’s what we have to do.”

The same can be said for targeting, which knocked cornerback Wesley McCormick out of the Pitt game and the first half of Saturday’s game against Kansas.

Lesley affirmed it can be hard to teach except for obvious launching rulings.

“A lot of times secondary guys have to play perfect fundamentally when things are happening fast. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying we expect them to make a perfect tackle and some of those plays, they’re short, intermediate throws that are bang-bang,” Lesley said. “If anybody has never tried to make a play like that when it’s bang-bang, they need to go try it before they criticize a kid. 

“We have to make a play. Some of those were poor angles and some is just really simple tackling technique. Keep the ball on your shoulder and run through the strike zone. That’s as simple as I can make tackling. We have to be better at it.”