Senior defensive end Shaquille Riddick
could be just what the doctor ordered for West Virginia’s pass defense.
Last year, the Mountaineers got to the opposing quarterback just 16 times - second worst among Big 12 teams behind Iowa State’s 15 sacks. In 2012, WVU’s sack total was only 23 after generating 45 sacks during Bruce Irvin’s senior season in 2011.
As a result, West Virginia had the worst pass defense in the Big 12 last year, allowing an average of 263.3 yards per game through the air – which is a 49.2-yard improvement from what the Mountaineer defense was able to accomplish against the pass in 2012.
Some of it is a matter of simply not being able to stick with the fleet wide receivers the Big 12 has to offer and some of it is a matter of not getting to the quarterback enough to help out a young and inexperienced secondary.
West Virginia coaches are hopeful Riddick, a senior transfer from Gardner-Webb, can help. Riddick produced 8 ½ sacks and 17 quarterback hurries in 2013 for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, earning first team FCA All-America honors and making the final cut for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the FCS ranks.
Riddick stands 6-feet-6 inches and weighs close to 245 pounds – the right size for what the Mountaineer coaches are looking for in their defensive ends – but the question is, can he come in and help the defense right away?
Keep in mind he wasn’t permitted to work out with the team this summer because he was completing coursework at Gardner-Webb, meaning he has a lot of catching up to do between now and August 30 when the Mountaineers tee it up against Alabama in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
“He’s behind just for the fact that we couldn’t work with him during the summertime,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “Coach (Damon) Cogdell and Coach (Tom) Bradley have done a great job of getting him caught up the last couple of days.”
Six-foot-six, 245-pound, fast-twitched defensive ends don’t grow on trees around here so having Riddick in the program for even one year is well worth the scholarship investment. At the very least, the coaching staff can get him lined up on one side of the field and have him go get the quarterback. Anything after that would be considered gravy.
“Day one was really his first day of coaching,” said Gibson. “He didn’t know anything - what we were doing and how we were lining up - and he got in a few reps. (Friday) we repped him some with the ones and the twos, mixing him in and letting him get his feet wet. With him, when we get full gear on we’re going to be able to see a lot more of him and what he’s capable of doing.”
That is happening right now. Coaches will be watching Riddick closely to see how he handles West Virginia’s starting Marquis Lucas
and Adam Pankey
in live situations.
“If we put him against the threes to start out with you’ve got some true freshman offensive lineman that has never played a snap so he’s going to look good against those guys,” explained Gibson. “But if we get him against Lucas and some of those guys then we’ll see where he’s at.
“And I think he will hold his own.”
Gibson said he saw enough of Riddick from last year’s tape to come to the conclusion that he can help this year’s defense.
“When you look at him and when you go back and watch his film his best game last year may have been against Marshall,” said Gibson. “He had a couple of sacks and a couple of QB hurries, and I think he’s built perfectly for the Big 12.”
If that’s the case, how did a talent like Riddick end up at FCS Gardner-Webb instead of some other Power 5 Conference program?
“He told me that he was 6-6 and about 190 pounds coming out of high school (Akron Buchtel),” said Gibson. “Nobody was going to take him and credit Gardner-Webb. They found a good one in that kid, projected him, and it worked out for them. When we found out he was transferring and had sent his release out we jumped on him. We needed that kind of guy. We felt he was a missing piece if we could get him.”
Gibson said Riddick is physically comparable to former Mountaineer players Julian Miller and Will Clarke, with perhaps a little more twitch than both of those guys.
“Is he Bruce Irvin? No, obviously not, but does he have some of the qualities that Bruce had? Yes. He understands one thing and that’s how to get to the quarterback,” said Gibson.
“The biggest adjustment for him is going to be looking up and seeing 60,000 seats instead of about 10,000,” Gibson concluded.
Or, the 71,228 seats that he will be looking at in the Georgia Dome when the Mountaineers take on the second-ranked Crimson Tide at the end of the month.