Secondary issues dog Mountaineers

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West Virginia cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts has used tape of former Mountaineers defensive back Keith Tandy, now playing in the NFL.

He has played preacher, therapist, psychologist.

And today, with his team trying to become bowl-eligible in a 3:30 p.m. game at Iowa State, he will pick the best two players to start at the corners, but pluck them right out of the game if need be.

It's all in a day's work when you're coaching a team with the 120th-ranked (that's last) pass defense in Division I-A and has six corners that have not stood out in a good way very often.

"As a coach, you play therapist, preacher, consultant, psychologist, psychiatrist, and that's for every coach in the building," Roberts said. "Geno Smith has had bad games. Tavon Austin ... Stedman Bailey ... Part of our job as a position coach is to boost their spirits. My job is to help keep their confidence up. None of them are on suicide watch."

Roberts said there is no fixed rotation for who will play, but the staff won't hesitate to make changes.

"We'll put two guys out there at the beginning of the game. If a guy shows he's not playing well, we're going to put another guy in," Roberts said. "We're definitely at a point where we haven't solidified starters. The guy who plays the best will play the most."

Scouting report
  • Matchup: West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) vs. Iowa State (6-5, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. today, Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa.
  • TV, Radio, Internet: WTAE, Mountaineer Sports Network, Sirius 91 and XM 91.
  • West Virginia: Coming off of five consecutive losses for the first time since 1986. ??? Needs one more win to become bowl-eligible. ??? WR turned RB Tavon Austin picked up 572 all-purpose yards against Oklahoma in a 50-49 loss last week. ??? WR Stedman Bailey has caught 20 TDs this year.
  • Iowa State: Unclear if freshman QB Sam Richardson will start. Replaced injured Steele Jantz last week at Kansas. Completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four TDs. ??? Led on defense by linebacker A.J. Klein, who has 84 tackles this year, 2.5 for losses. ??? Safety Durrell Givins leads Division I-A with nine takeaways. ??? Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp has pinned 27 of 65 punts inside opponents 20, 14 of those inside the 10.
  • Hidden stat: The Cyclones have allowed more first downs than any team in the Big 12 with 209, but are first in the league in red-zone defense.

Veterans Brodrick Jenkins and Pat Miller are listed as starters, but Jenkins had arthroscopic knee surgery a month ago and is still returning to form. Last week, West Virginia started redshirt sophomore Ishmael Banks at one corner and redshirt freshman Terrell Chestnut at the other. Their backups are freshmen Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph.

"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, You have some pretty good receivers, so it is a tough league to play corner. None of the guys have stepped up and said 'this is my position, and I am going to make enough plays to where I am not going to be taken out of the game.' "

Roberts said Tandy, a cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had some rough times as a freshman, too.

"Tandy and I talk quite a bit. Last year, no one remembered the fact that Tandy had a rough start," Roberts said.

"To play cornerback in a league that has the best quarterback and wide receiver combinations in the country is a tall order.

"I signed up to coach it, you signed up to play it. So, we're going to keep progressing and playing better. The guys who practice with the best discipline and tempo will play in the game."

Iowa State has the Big 12 Conference's eighth-ranked passing offense, throwing for an average of just 222.82 yards a game, but it is unclear which quarterback will start for the Cyclones. Freshman Sam Richardson replaced Steele Jantz at Kansas last week and threw four touchdowns, completing 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards.

Might this opponent bring some relief for the team's most-maligned players?

"It's hard for Mountaineer nation to understand it, but it is a good thing to go into the week with five [or six] corners and elevate the best two," Roberts said.

"It's tough playing with young guys, but again they're going to learn. They've seen just about every route combination and style of receiver and quarterback that you can see, and they'll play better.

"I'm proud of them in terms of being able to push through it and move on to the next one."

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Jenn Menendez: or 412-263-1959. First Published November 23, 2012 5:00 AM


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