MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Karl Joseph has a reputation for delivering vicious tackles at West Virginia.
He’s showing he has a good grip, too.
Buoyed by Joseph’s three interceptions in the season opener, the Mountaineers are looking for another dominating performance on defense Saturday at home against FCS team Liberty.
“I’m just hoping we can continue to build on this,” Joseph said.
Most things went right for the Mountaineers in their 44-0 win last week over Georgia Southern. Joseph also had a fumble recovery and a team-high eight tackles in earning Big 12 defensive player of the week honors.
Liberty coach Turner Gill said Joseph “studies the opponents very, very well, anticipates where they’re going to throw the ball that he makes a great break on it. Obviously he’s fast and has good ball skills.”
To have any chance against the heavily favored Mountaineers, Gill said Liberty must play “our best football game that we’ve ever played, there’s no question about that. We’ve got to play well early.”
West Virginia hasn’t had much to brag about on defense over the long haul in recent years, a main reason for the team’s frustrating finishes in the Big 12 in its first three seasons.
With the conference opener still three weeks away, signs of improvement are clearly evident.
West Virginia forced five turnovers and held Georgia Southern’s triple-option run offense to 195 rushing yards — 186 yards below its 2014 average. But the Mountaineers saw only 13 pass attempts. Liberty’s pro-style offense will provide more of a test for West Virginia’s secondary.
“It’s a new game with a new approach,” said West Virginia safeties coach Joe DeForest.
Here are some things to look for in West Virginia’s pursuit of its first 2-0 start since 2012:
SKYLER’S TIMING: West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t the only one who would like to see better timing on quarterback Skyler Howard’s passes. Howard would, too. The junior has at times either waited too long to throw or overthrows his receivers, including last week against Georgia Southern. “If some of those balls were on the money they would have been uncontested catches and it makes it a lot easier on those guys,” Howard said.
RED-ZONE SNAGS: West Virginia is still trying to fix a tendency to fall flat on offense inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Last week the Mountaineers settled for three short field goals from Josh Lambert and got no points after Georgia Southern was stopped on fourth-and-1 from its 29.
BARBER’S RETURN: West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber’s decision to redshirt last season rather than return from knee surgery and a post-surgery infection turned out to be wise. Barber, who limped along the sidelines for much of 2014 as his knee mended, had three tackles a week ago and will get his 15th career start against Liberty. “He’s smart. That’s why we call him coach Barber,” Holgorsen said. “He’s bigger, faster and stronger than he was two years ago.”
NO RETURNS: West Virginia will get another chance to show any improvement returning kickoffs and punts. The Mountaineers attempted no returns despite having six such opportunities last week.
SCOUTING LIBERTY: Josh Woodrum had two TD tosses to Darrin Peterson while Desmond Rice ran for 139 yards in Liberty’s 32-13 opening win over Delaware State. Holgorsen wants his defense to watch for the quick release from Woodrum’s throws and keep an eye on Peterson, who caught eight passes for 83 yards. He had 1,379 yards and 12 TDs last season.