MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Will WVU’s defense be better in 2023? Head coach Neal Brown was asked that question on Saturday, and his answer was simple: “We better be better.”
Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley is putting a heavy focus on fundamentals this spring. He said taking that approach is something he should have done earlier last season, but added that getting back to the basics was difficult with so many moving parts.
“Trying to plug holes, you hurt yourself when you do that. With injuries and guys not up to the standards, it ended up creating more holes,” Lesley said. “When we got back basics, we played a lot better and faster.”
In terms of production, it was not up to the standard the program has set on that side of the ball. Lesley said they didn’t force enough takeaways, gave up too many explosive plays, and had too many missed tackles.
Last season, the Mountaineer defense finished with 68 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, and just four interceptions. It marked the first year the unit finished with fewer than eight picks in Lesley’s four seasons as defensive coordinator.
In 2021, WVU racked up 84 TFLs — the most in a single season under Lesley —, 27 sacks, and nine interceptions. The most sacks recorded in one year under Lesley, 33, came in 2019.
West Virginia allowed three opponents to rush for more than 200 yards in 2022. It allowed 300-plus passing yards on five occasions.
“I’m very confident we are going to be better than we were a year ago. Will we miss Dante [Stills]? Yes,” Brown said. “But do I think we will be better as a defense overall? Absolutely.”
Stills tallied 9 TFLs and a team-high 4.5 sacks last season.
Linebacker Lee Kpogba finished the year as WVU’s leading tackler with 92 total stops. Aubrey Burks led the secondary with 62 total tackles, while Malachi Ruffin led in interceptions with two. All three will be back in 2023.
“First of all, our pad level is better. Our angles and our strain to get to the ball is better,” Brown said. “We’re doing a better job of shedding blocks, which is very important. That’s something we were below average at last year. I’m not saying we’ve arrived, but we have gotten better.”
WVU will take the field on Tuesday and Thursday before wrapping up the spring season with the Gold-Blue Game on Saturday. The scrimmage begins at 1 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium.