Rasul Douglas becomes No. 10 West Virginia’s defensive star
Rasul Douglas has become West Virginia’s best defensive player. Dede Westbrook is Oklahoma’s game-changing wide receiver.
West Virginia cornerbacks coach Blue Adams isn’t hinting at whether he plans to use Douglas to cloak Westbrook on Saturday night when No. 10 West Virginia meets the eighth-ranked Sooners.
Oklahoma (8-2, 7-0 Big 12, No. 9 CFP) has so many offensive weapons that Adams has to figure out where to line up his unit, when to blitz quarterback Baker Mayfield and when to stay back in coverage.
But defending Westbrook is a big priority.
“I can’t sleep at night,” Adams said. “This Westbrook guy is a good player. Good at changing direction, good acceleration, good decel. Good route runner. Good speed. I think this will be a good test for us.
“They do a good job of moving him around so that you don’t get a beat on him.”
Douglas has been a key component on a retooled defense for West Virginia (8-1, 5-1, No. 14 CFP). Like Westbrook, Douglas presents a problem for Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is wary of the 6-foot-2 cornerback’s lengthy wingspan and tackling ability.
“You don’t see many who can cover, who can tackle and also make plays on the ball,” Riley said. “He’s doing all three well right now.”
Both players are tied for second nationally in several categories. Westbrook is averaging 125.4 receiving yards per game and has 14 touchdown catches.
Douglas has six interceptions, including three in the past two games. He swatted a pass out of the back of the end zone on the final play last week to preserve the Mountaineers’ 24-20 win at Texas .
“I trust my instincts a lot,” Douglas said. “Coach Blue always tells us, ‘don’t fear the skunk.’ If it looks like a skunk, and it smells like a skunk, it’s definitely a skunk. So he always says trust your eyes.”
Douglas also is the team’s second-leading tackler.
“That’s kind of an understatement, being valuable,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “He’s our best defensive football player right now. He’s continuously getting better. He’s making big plays that have an outcome on the game. He’s confident. Couldn’t be happier or prouder of what Rasul’s done. Happy we got him, and going to enjoy him for the rest of the year.”
Happy wasn’t a way to describe Douglas’ path to West Virginia.
He struggled personally as a standout player at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Being a member of a large family, he suddenly was on his own. He had little money and transportation issues to practice and classes. He didn’t eat properly and lost weight.
At West Virginia, he sat out 2015 spring practices with academic issues and wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until two weeks before the season started. Far behind the learning curve, he had one interception and just eight tackles in 11 games.
Things started clicking last offseason when Douglas dedicated himself to weight room work and further learning the system.
“He’s playing at a very high level right now,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “He’s putting up numbers right now that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Norman, Oklahoma, contributed to this report
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