West Virginia's defense has been one of the worst in the Big 12 -- and one of the 20 worst in the nation -- in the two seasons the Mountaineers have been in in the conference.
Improvement is expected this season for a variety of reasons, experience and more overall speed among them. Another key to potential improvement is senior defensive end Shaquille Riddick, a touted transfer from FCS member Gardner-Webb.
Riddick (6-foot-6, 244 pounds) -- who, coincidentally, is almost the exact same size as Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory (Gregory is four pounds heavier) -- was a FCS All-American, and his pass-rush ability should be a boon to a unit that desperately needs it. Riddick had 8.5 sacks last season, and two of those came against Marshall in the only game the Bulldogs played against a FBS foe.
WVU surrendered 472.8 yards per game in 2012 and made a slight improvement last fall, giving up 454.3 yards per game. The Mountaineers had 17 sacks last season, six fewer than in 2012 and a figure that ranked 105th nationally.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen doesn't allow newcomers -- freshman or otherwise -- to speak to the media yet, but Riddick has done enough to impress his coaches and teammates.
"He gets football. He understands football. There's no problem with football. He understands it," WVU defensive line coach Tom Bradley, the former longtime coordinator at Penn State, told West Virginia Illustrated. "It's just a matter of doing the techniques and getting good at them. But it's not a question of learning. He understands football."
Bradley describes Riddick as a "quick" guy who can come off the edge.
"He's the type of guy that's got to learn how to play lower because he tends to play high at times since he's a taller person," Bradley said. "... But the great thing about him is that he's got a motor and he likes to play. Those are two good things to start with."
Riddick had 67 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries last season, when he finished fifth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to the top defensive player in the FCS ranks. He graduated from Gardner-Webb with a business administration degree in May and is studying communications at WVU.
Christian Brown, in line to be a starter somewhere on WVU's three-man front, said Riddick is "very fast off the ball. We're looking forward to him getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback."
Riddick's first chance to do that comes against Alabama in WVU's opener, which is Aug. 30 in Atlanta. WVU also has games against Maryland and Oklahoma before the end of September, so Holgorsen and the Mountaineers hope there isn't much of a learning curve for Riddick.