The West Virginia Mountaineers were a mess on defense last season, giving up an average of 38.1 points per game and getting blown out in just about every game that Geno Smith didn’t put 50 points up on the board. One of the bright spots, however, was the emergence of some talented freshmen, like linebacker Isaiah Bruce. He will need to be even better in his sophomore season, though, if West Virginia’s porous defense has any hopes of getting better.
Bruce burst onto the scene immediately in 2012, recording 16 tackles in his very first start during a blowout win of the Marshall Thundering Herd. He continued his strong play early, making 53 tackles over the first five games of the season along with half a sack. Bruce would finish the year with 90 tackles, good for second on the team, to go along with 6.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
But Bruce’s breakout start to the 2012 season masked a disappointing fade down the stretch. After getting double-digit tackles in three of his first five games, the freshman recorded more than five tackles just twice the rest of the season, when he got nine tackles in back-to-back games against the Kansas State Wildcats and TCU Horned Frogs. Over the final four games, he had just five total tackles, including zero in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Syracuse Orange.
The Mountaineers will need Bruce to come back in 2013 stronger and ready to shed blocks and take on ball-carriers to be a more consistent presence in the defense. If he can take that next step and avoid another drop off in production, he will be the cornerstone of the rebuilding effort for West Virginia’s defense.