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West Virginia Defensive Preview: A Big Hole To Fill

The angle of this entire preview changed this week when the news came of star Mountaineer safety, Karl Joseph, missing the rest of the season with an injury. This raises the count to two major injuries between the two Saturday combatants.

Karl Joseph was a pin that held the Mountaineer defense together.
Karl Joseph was a pin that held the Mountaineer defense together.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Replacement:

So Karl Joseph is out. That won't be changing. I guess that is to the benefit of the Cowboys, but even Cowboy players have even expressed their disappointment of not getting to play a top level talent. Who takes over though for the All-American? The answer is Jarrod Harper. Harper is a redshirt junior who has seen plenty of action even while playing behind the star of Joseph. Harper has played in almost 30 games in his career and has recorded over 25 tackles in his career. Yes, he is nowhere near the production of Joseph and probably won't be getting there, but Harper has shown to be a threat in pass rush, run defense and even special teams, where he blocked a punt last season against Maryland. Look for Mason Rudolph to target down the middle again with a weaker opponent now defending the area. That is, if Rudolph can control his throws and not put the Cowboys in a precarious position.

The Star's But Not The Galaxy:

One player doesn't make up an entire unit. That's obvious and shouldn't be discussed any further. West Virginia is one of the best defensive units in the conference and has some recognizable names back in the fold in 2015. Seven of the starting defenders that held the Cowboys to 10 points last season return. This time, they have their own crowd behind them. The most memorable of the remaining seven is linebacker K.J. Dillon. Dillon and his partner, who we will get to in a minute lead what could be the best linebacking unit in the Big 12 and arguably in the country. Dillon plays a similar position to the what the Cowboys have come to know as the star backer. A hybrid safety/linebacker position meant to have a run stopping safety, closer to linebacker depth, but has the ability to drop back into coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. Dillon has been, as his job description says, a do-it-all player. Bringing in tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions and fumbles, there isn't a play that Dillon hasn't made in his four years in Morgantown. He will likely wreak havoc on the Cowboy offensive line, which as of late doesn't seem very hard. That could have Dillon and company licking their chops.

Nothing Quiet About Kwiat:

I know, the subhead was a forced pun, but that's what you get every week when you read these. So there. Nick Kwiatkoski is arguably the most important defensive player on the field now that Karl Joseph is out of the picture. If the NFL-prospect Kwiatkoski is making play after play like he did in 2014, then the Cowboys chances of winning this ballgame go from being slim to almost none.

Coffelt's Picks:

The Cowboys will lose this game. It had to happen at some point and I've seen this movie before. It will be closer than the dumpster fire of 2013, but it will be a jubilated homecoming celebration in Morgantown. Crow will be happily be eaten if this goes a different way. Couches.... You've been warned. Cowboys lose 27-21.