On a defense that has seen its struggles, West Virginia outside linebacker David Long Jr. is starting to put together a season worth bragging about.
The redshirt sophomore missed the first month after injuring a knee in summer workouts that required surgery. He had a combined 1.5 tackles for losses over his first three games before erupting in a loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Long had 18 tackles, including a school-record seven for losses, against the Cowboys.
“I just know I had to give my hundred percent no matter what,” Long said. “And I was just hoping for a change in the game and it really didn’t come. But eventually it will.”
The total tackles were the most at West Virginia since 2003, when linebacker Grant Wiley also had 18.
“It was pretty good and it’s so sad that we didn’t get to celebrate it,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “The mood around here Sunday was not good, and you hate it for the kid. I think his confidence right now is through the roof. I’m excited to watch him for the remainder of the year.”
Gibson and coach Dana Holgorsen have been raving about Long for some time.
Last year Gibson predicted Long had the talent to break career tackling records at West Virginia. Long started the final 10 games last season and finished sixth on the team with 68 tackles.
“You can’t block him,” Holgorsen said. “He keeps his feet. He keeps getting banged up and still makes tackles.”
Long will have an especially big challenge on Saturday at home when West Virginia (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) plays No. 14 Iowa State (6-2, 4-1).
He’ll be tasked with taking down a former high school foe, Iowa State’s David Montgomery. Long played at Cincinnati’s Winton Woods, and Montgomery was just a few miles away at Mount Healthy High.
Montgomery leads the Big 12 with eight rushing TDs and is the No. 2 rusher with 716 yards behind Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill.
Montgomery’s ability to dodge opponents has drawn some comparisons to NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders and Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He’s a shifty runner,” Long said. “Not really heads up and run you over, but he’ll make you miss.”
There’s been a lot of missed tackles this year at West Virginia, which is next-to-last in the Big 12 with 205 rushing yards and 460 total yards allowed per game.
In a lineup that’s been shifting constantly due to new starters and several injuries, Gibson counts Long, linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and safety Kyzir White as his most dependable players.
Benton, who leads the Mountaineers in tackles, said that Long’s tenacity motivates him to work harder.
“He makes a lot of plays other guys can’t,” Benton said. “You think you’re getting to the ball fast, and he’ll get there faster than you. I know when David is out there, I’ve got to play at my best if I want to make some plays, too.”