CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As West Virginia's new defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson has seen the Mountaineers revert to their old habits of letting opponents get yards in chunks, and he said the potential for Kansas to produce big plays is real despite the Jayhawks' struggles of late.
Gibson only has to look back to last year when Kansas snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak by beating the Mountaineers 31-19 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Gibson hopes that the only prolific offense he sees comes from his own sideline when West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) meets the Jayhawks (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday in Morgantown.
Kansas has been held out of the end zone in two of its last three games. But four of its seven touchdowns in wins over Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan have gone for more than 30 yards.
"We don't want to get hit with big plays like that," Gibson said.
The focus for West Virginia's defense will be containing mobile quarterback Montell Cozart, sticking to Jayhawks' receivers like glue while Cozart is improvising and not letting Kansas running backs get to the open field.
Cozart has seen some success but often has made defenses look great. He's struggled with accuracy problems and had four interceptions in a 23-0 loss to Texas last week. Yet he's thrown for seven touchdowns this season, including tosses of 67, 60 and 30 yards.
"He keeps plays alive with his feet and he gets outside the pocket and he can hurt you," Gibson said. "He can throw the ball, especially when he rolls to his right. He's dangerous when he gets on the perimeter. That's something our kids have to have aware of. And again, guys in coverage have to stay in coverage."
Five Kansas receivers are averaging 12 yards per catch. Top receiver Tony Pierson has a 74-yard scoring run and a 67-yard TD catch this season.
Pierson "has the ability to take it the distance," said West Virginia cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. "They've got some home run hitters. I think their wide receivers are very capable. They're going to be a challenge."
Especially with a West Virginia secondary thinned by the indefinite suspension of cornerback Daryl Worley, who has two of the team's three interceptions. Ishmael Banks returned against No. 4 Oklahoma two weeks ago after sitting out the first three games from a suspension imposed by the NCAA for an unspecified academic issue.
West Virginia's defense surrendered scoring plays of 75 and 77 yards in a win over Maryland, while Oklahoma and No. 3 Alabama combined for three non-scoring plays of 37 yards or more.
Once teams get inside West Virginia's 20-yard line, the Mountaineers have done nothing to stop them further. Opponents have scored on all 10 red-zone tries this season, including eight touchdowns.
"I think some of the stuff that we needed to work on was bad tackling," Gibson said. "I thought we put in some good work on it during the bye week. I think we're honing in on what we do well and we're going to get better with that."