MORGANTOWN — As he sat down in a cushioned chair in West Virginia’s team meeting room, Tony Gibson, West Virginia’s defensive coordinator, immediately was asked a question.
“Have you been getting much sleep?”
College football coaches, almost as a rule, don’t. For defensive coordinators in the Big 12 Conference, which features the kind of final scores often reserved for teenagers playing Madden, that’s especially true. For Gibson, the past month has been a different kind of inferno.
And, while the Mountaineers’ four-game stretch against top-15 teams is complete, his work is far from over. West Virginia plays Texas Tech Saturday at home. The Red Raiders are fourth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring offense at 47.3 points per game. The Red Raiders are the fifth team the Mountaineers have faced in as many games that rank among the top seven FBS teams in scoring offense, the past three of which rank among the top four in that category.
“I can go on and on about what they are doing offensively,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “These three teams that we face are doing things in college football that haven’t been done before, and to have three teams in the same conference be able to do it, three teams that the Mountaineers face three weeks in a row, is something that hasn’t been seen before.”
In all, the past five teams on West Virginia’s schedule average at least 44 points per game.
That daunting task was compounded in the past four games, as it was forced to play without its defensive pillar, All-Big 12 safety Karl Joseph, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. When that’s combined with injuries to other standouts in the secondary such as cornerback Terrell Chestnut, the Mountaineers have been forced to use an undermanned defense, one that featured former scout-team players by the end of the loss Thursday against TCU.
“We’re not where we were a month ago and we’re not where we were two months ago,” Gibson said. “We’re a totally different defense without No. 8 [Karl Joseph]. No. 16 [Terrell Chestnut] is banged up. We’ve got guys banged up all over the place.
“I know that’s a part of it and all that, but, when you lose such a significant player … I’m not making excuses, but that’s the reality of it. People don’t like to say what the reality is. They like to write and say and do different things. When you lose your best guy, that’s the reality of football. You take away peoples’ quarterbacks, and that’s what we lost on defense. When that happens, you’re not going to be as good.”
Among the lasting images of the loss last week against TCU was a shot of Holgorsen slapping hands with Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin after the senior broke off a mesmerizing run late in the game.
It was a clip that spread rapidly across the Internet, amusing many but angering others such as former West Virginia great Pat White, who voiced his displeasure on Twitter.
For some like Mountaineers linebacker Jared Barber, the interaction wasn’t a big deal.
“I didn’t really care, to be honest with you,” he said. “He’s a [heck] of a player and he made a [heck] of a play. Whether it’s against me or not, if somebody makes a good play, I don’t get mad about it. It is what it is. He’s second in the Heisman [Trophy]. He’s a great player and he’s on a great team.
“For a football coach and player and someone who appreciates football, you kind of appreciate it. Even if it’s against you, you appreciate the play that was made and the effort. There’s nothing he was saying like ‘Oh well, you’re better than us.’ It was just him saying ‘Wow, you’re pretty good.’ That’s all it was.”