Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

September 15, 2011

Undersized Rigg getting chance to shine at LB for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN — Doug Rigg likes to practice. A year ago at this time, the West Virginia sophomore from New Jersey didn’t have the same affinity for working so hard prior to an actual game.

That changed with the installation of Dana Holgorsen as head coach, and a less tense atmosphere on the Mountaineers’ practice field.

“He has the different type of philosophy, but it is pretty much the same for me, that didn’t change,” Rigg said. “It is just a whole different mindset and it is much more relaxed.

“Honestly I have fun practicing now, I used to hate practice. I actually dreaded it, but this year I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t even look at the time, I just want to get out there and compete.”

Rigg is one of the newest starters on the West Virginia (2-0) defense, having taken over the role of outside linebacker for the Mountaineers, a position he had strived to attain since last season came to an end.

“I just need to come out and get better each day in practice and show the coaches I can be a consistent player,” said Rigg, during the preseason, “and that is the big thing he (defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel) wants is a consistent player.”

Rigg played in all 13 games last season, recording 14 tackles, including a season-high of five in a loss at LSU. He was part of a veteran defense that was among the national leaders in numerous categories, including top 3 in scoring, total yardage, defending the run and sacks.

“Last year everybody really knew what they were doing, it was just a matter of executing,” Rigg said. “This year it was more of learning and teaching and different things like that and we just have to come out with effort every single day.”

That unit lost several talented players, including Robert Sands, J.T. Thomas, Chris Neild and Brandon Hogan, meaning new reinforcements have needed to be found.

“Last year’s defense had a lot of experience so they really knew what it takes. Us, we don’t really know what it takes for a lot of new people filling in,” Rigg said. “We have to practice as hard as we will (play) in the games because we are going to be on the field for a long time.

“We will make mistakes so that is why effort is the most important thing for this team.  

We have a lot of speed and we have to use it. I think we have as much, if not more, speed than last year’s team so we have to use that to our advantage.”

Through two games, West Virginia hasn’t given up much. Marshall scored 13 points and Norfolk State added 12. They are currently ranked 17th in the nation in total defense (236.0) and 20th in scoring (12.5), although the Mountaineers have yet to allow an offensive touchdown.

It is players like Rigg, who has four tackles, including one for loss, that will be expected to help the Mountaineers continue that pace against a schedule that promises to get tougher, starting this week at Maryland, followed by a visit from third-ranked LSU.

“I think I am getting better and better every day, I am able to see things faster and react to it faster,” Rigg said. “I am not thinking as much as I did last year, I am mostly focusing on playing fast and low like the fundamental stuff.

“I am not really worried about plays because I can see it coming faster.”

What they haven’t done is force turnovers, which was a mantra entering the season for West Virginia. They have none so far, and also have just one sack, that being by Bruce Irvin.

Rigg figures those plays will come.

“Last year we had a lot of more size on the d-line and our linebackers were more experienced so we just have to use our speed to our advantage,” Rigg said. “You are going to see it in the first game if we really get after it, I think we are faster than last year, we are going to try to get to the ball and force some turnovers.”

While Rigg is one of several new starters for the West Virginia defense, they are being tutored by veteran returnees like linemen Julian Miller and Irvin, defensive backs Terrance Garvin and Keith Tandy, and fellow linebacker Najee Goode.

“The thing I really like about this defense is it is really tough to stop it,” Rigg said. “You know where you are going and you play fast and that way it is hard to tell who to block.

“We have great pass rushers, we have great DBs so if we just get after it as linebackers, then the whole defense will be fun to watch.”

Yet, much like Rigg — who at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds is undersized for his position — so are many of the linemen, including the 236-pound Irvin.  

“They are very, very talented, you know when it is a third down they are going to get after the passer so that helps a lot,” Rigg said. “The problem is they are undersized, they can stop the run, but 320-pound linemen double team you every single time.

“We have to try to help them by playing into people so we’re just trying to take the stress off of them in the run game and help them out.”

The same goes from the back, where Rigg likes the play of the secondary that includes Darwin Cook, who currently leads West Virginia with 15 tackles in two game.

Allowing the line and defensive backs to make plays depends largely on linebackers like the experienced Goode and newcomer Rigg.

“We just have to play into people. Tthat is what we love to do, just try and go down hill,” Riggs said. “We have to push people back because we are undersized as linebackers so we have to start hitting people and knocking them back and stopping the run…

“I think we can have a really special team is we just keep getting better every day.”

That comes with cutting down on mistakes, something the Mountaineers have done through two games. It promises to get tougher this week at Maryland (1-0), which was impressive — other than the uniforms — in a 32-24 win over Miami.

“We are going to make a lot of mistakes, it is just a young team that makes mistakes,” Rigg said. “The only thing that will really cover it is getting to the ball, flying around and going 110 percent.

“Last year’s team made some mistakes, but not really, they knew where to be for the most part. Our team, we are going to make mistakes so we just have to cover it up the best we can.”

Tempo has been the big topic for Holgorsen’s new high-powered offense, which has scored 89 points in two games. Going against that defense certainly can’t hurt the West Virginia defense, which is seeking the same type of efficiency on that side of the ball.

No wonder Rigg enjoys practice so much.

“Every time they run a play they are on the line ready to run another one,” Rigg said. “You are very tired, but when a regular game comes around and the team huddles up, you will be fresh throughout the whole game.”  

Getting those two units with the same tempo at the same time is what the Mountaineers are hoping to find. If they do, as Rigg says, watch out.

“Honestly, I think if the defense matches the tempo of the offense, we could be a very scary team,” Rigg said. “I can’t predict a record, but I think we can be a scary team if we come out as a defense, communicate and run to the ball.”  

— Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdotnline.com

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