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Help needed on the corner

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Here's the way things have shaken out for West Virginia's much-maligned cornerbacks as the season winds down:

  • Six different corners have played, occasionally in the same game.
  • Five of the six have earned starts, including one true freshman and a sophomore who has changed positions twice in the past six months.
  • The Mountaineers have gone with veterans together, freshmen on the field at the same time and every sort of mix in between.
  • And yet the bottom line has not changed at all. West Virginia is still dead last in the country in passing yards allowed and next-to-last in pass efficiency defense. In last week's 50-49 loss to Oklahoma, Landry Jones threw for 554 yards and six touchdowns. Even in a career he will soon finish ranked No. 3 all-time in the NCAA in passing yards and No. 2 in touchdowns, Jones had never had those kinds of numbers against anyone.

    Don't expect the revolving door at cornerback to stop anytime soon, though. The fact of the matter is no one has played well enough to become entrenched. That's obvious.

    "We don't have anyone that has stepped up and taken control of the position,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "This is a tough league to play corner in. None of the guys have stepped up and said, 'This is my position and I'm going to make enough plays to where I'm not going to be taken out of the game.' Whether that gets established here between now and January 1 or not, I don't know.''

    That Jan. 1 date, of course, is still wishful thinking. If West Virginia doesn't stop what is now a five-game losing streak and get at least one more win, the season will end with the Dec. 1 home game against Kansas.

    Before that comes Friday's game with Iowa State. The Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) and the Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) play at 3:30 p.m. that day at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. If WVU manages to win one of those games, it will play in a bowl, likely one the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

    Winning one of those two, however, might require some significant progress by the secondary. Iowa State ranks just No. 72 in the nation in passing and No. 85 in pass efficiency, while Kansas is even worse - No. 113 in passing and No. 120 (last) in passing efficiency.

    But other subpar passing teams have gotten well by facing West Virginia, so the pressure is still on the secondary, especially the cornerbacks.

    It's not a group that inspires much confidence, however. Senior Pat Miller and junior Brodrick Jenkins, the two veterans, have seen their playing time reduced dramatically of late, Jenkins after a knee injury and Miller because of performance. Sophomore Ismael Banks has started three games in a row now after being moved to safety in the spring and then back to corner during the season.

    Redshirt freshman Terrell Chestnut started the Oklahoma game after not playing at all the first seven games. And the two true freshmen, Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph,  rotate into the mix frequently.

    Of the six, only Rumph has yet to start a game, but don't discount the possibility, even though he didn't even play high school football until he was a junior.

    All of the younger players could use more seasoning, but that's just not feasible.

    "A lot of them are young and obviously you have guys like Ricky Rumph, who is a true freshman and has no business playing corner in the Big 12 at this point in his career,'' Holgorsen said, not so much an indictment of Rumph's ability as his experience. "Chestnut has played zero snaps at corner the entire year and we started him. He doesn't have any business starting in this league at corner at this point in time.

    "But we just don't have enough guys that can control the position and say that this is mine and we're going to make it work. Competition continues to be a challenging focus for that spot right now.''

    There are no options on the roster, either. The Mountaineers lost one corner, Avery Williams, to injury and another freshman, Brandon Napoleon, was hurt and fell too far behind to think about losing his redshirt.

    "The older guys are the ones you are going to have to count on,'' Holgorsen said. "They've been OK at times and they've been poor at times. The young guys have to continue to step up and continue to get better. But a lot of that is an offseason project.

    "You get Avery back, who is young, you get Chestnut back, who is young, and Ricky and Nana. You have Brandon Napoleon who is a redshirt kid, Vernon Davis who also is a redshirted kid, too. You have six guys that are young, and those freshmen need years to develop before they will be adequate in covering some of these Big 12 receivers. We're not in that situation as a program right now. It's going to take some time.''

    Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

     


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