Cornerback Chestnut emerging to bolster West Virginia defense
In the 36th minute of its ninth game Saturday, West Virginia recovered an opponent’s fumble for the first time this season.
The wait almost was worth it. WVU cornerback Terrell Chestnut yanked the ball from Josh Doctson as the talented TCU receiver was pulling in a short pass near the sideline. Simultaneously, safety K.J. Dillon blasted Doctson, and the ball fell to the turf. Chestnut scooped it up. Escorted by blockers, he sprinted 35 yards into the end zone.
In a game crucial to the Mountaineers’ Big 12 title hopes, the touchdown gave WVU a 27-14 lead with 6:51 left in the third quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“A great momentum changer,” cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell called it, but the change was short-lived. The offense fizzled after that, and TCU came back to win 31-30 on a last-second field goal.
But there was no denying the importance of Chestnut’s play or how it typified a WVU defense that is light years beyond its 2013 stature. Chestnut and the rest of the secondary have been instrumental.
“We had a chip on our shoulder, and we worked hard during the offseason doing a lot of film study and a lot of footwork drills,” he said. “A lot of things that would help us get in and out of our breaks.
“When you have great coaches like we do, they get you ready. We bought into what was being instilled in us.”
Coming into the game, TCU led the nation in points and ranked second in total offense, averaging 579 yards per game. WVU held the Horned Frogs to a season-low 389 as quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin completed just 12 of 30 passes for 166 yards. Chestnut said it probably was the secondary’s best game of the season.
“We challenged their receivers,” he said. “The coaches challenged us at the beginning of the week. I think we stepped up as a whole.”
It was Chestnut’s first game since Baylor receiver Corey Coleman wiped him out with a crushing block that caused a concussion in the second quarter of the Mountaineers’ 41-27 win two weeks earlier.
Chestnut, a fourth-year junior from Pottstown, has rebounded before. He overcame a recurring shoulder injury his freshman year and a torn ACL suffered in the Pinstripe Bowl after the 2012 season. He played mainly on special teams last season because of that. Last summer, a rigorous regimen help him surpass Icky Banks, who started all 12 games in 2013, as the Mountaineers’ first-string cornerback opposite Daryl Worley.
“He was never really 100 percent, but you could see the makings of a good corner,” Mitchell said.
“I had the best offseason since I’ve been here,” Chestnut said. “I just went in every day and tried to work. I had the mindset that I’ve got to get better and make a difference, and I need to be a leader. Even though I’m not a vocal leader, I try to lead by example.”
His strip and scoop spoke louder than any fiery exhortation. Chestnut said the play — his first defensive touchdown, including high school — cannot be replicated in practice, but the fundamentals that go into it are repeated daily.
“All year long, the kid has been grading out very consistently in the low to mid-90s,” Mitchell said. “He gives you tremendous effort. He’s always a good technician.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.