I'm really enjoying doing these player previews each week, and there are usually standout players for both sides of the ball that make it easy to choose who to write about. This week was a little different. With a defense that started the season ranked as one of the Top 5 in the nation and is now ranked below TCU's struggling defense, West Virginia doesn't have a whole lot to talk about. Their All-American Senior Safety, Karl Joseph, was injured during practice after their loss to Oklahoma, and he required knee surgery that will have him out the rest of the season. This week they're also likely to be missing CB Terrell Chestnut due to a shoulder injury and CB Ricky Rumph due to a death in the family. With losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor so far, West Virginia's defense is looking for a good leader who can help bring the offense back to the field as quickly as possible. To that point, West Virginia does lead the nation in stopping opponents on third down, so they have that going for them. They give up the fewest first downs in the league, and it'll be interesting to see how many first downs the Frogs can dig up this week. So after looking at all of the defensive rankings, game stats, and media releases, it's apparent that Dana Holgorsen's defensive dreams lie squarely on the shoulders of Junior Safety Jarrod Harper.
Harper, who hails from Frostburg, Maryland, is the new Karl Joseph. At least that's what the Mountaineers are hoping anyway. He signed in the same class as Joseph and has been quietly waiting his turn to take the field as the #1 Safety. He's close to Joseph and has been taking notes while watching him from the sidelines. Last season, coach Joe DeFrost even referred to Harper as "one of (his) favorite players." He has game experience and actually played in all 12 games his redshirt Freshman year (2013). He was mostly used on special teams and had 10 tackles and a forced fumble. He played in 13 games last year and ended the season with 13 tackles, a sack, and a great blocked punt against Maryland. The biggest challenge for Harper seems to be a basic lack of play time. In his first game starting against Oklahoma State, Harper had 6 tackles and 2 pass break-ups. But OSU ran 81 plays and Harper had only previously tallied 96 plays on defense during his entire 2014 season. After that was the Baylor game, in which Baylor ran 84 plays. Harper had 3 tackles (2 solo) during that game. He also got served by Baylor's top receiver, Corey Coleman. He has yet to get a sack, force a fumble, or grab an interception this season, but let's remember that this Thursday will only be his third game starting. He's been thrown into the fire, as his first three starts are against the three ranked and undefeated Big XII teams.
Several other defensive players deserve honorable mention here, including LB Nick Kwiatkowski (28 tackles and 1 interception) and LB K.J. Dillon (17 tackles and 1 interception). Junior CB Daryl Worley has 2 interceptions and 14 tackles, while LB Jared Barber has 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks. While I chose to highlight Harper due to his being dubbed a direct replacement for Joseph, it's really the entire West Virginia defense that has the potential to limit Boykin and Company. Notice I said potential. With all the pieces coming together, the Mountaineers' defense does have the talent to stop the Frogs from converting 3rd downs. There's also a definite knack for interceptions with this defense. But every defensive player needs to have a mistake-free game in order to hold down the Frogs. We know there's a history of tight games between these two teams, so anything can happen. But being surrounded by a sea of TCU fans wearing black in the dark of Texas night has to be intimidating, right? Let's fill up the Amon and show these guys what it means to have Frog Eyes watching your every move.