MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas reported to Sunday’s workout as the Big 12’s interception leader, a testament to offseason training, overflowing confidence and a dash of good fortune.
His first-quarter interception during Saturday’s 48-21 win over Kansas occurred despite pre-snap confusion. Douglas, lined up on the boundary opposite West Virginia’s bench, didn’t process the coverage call correctly, and as the play began, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson repeatedly motioned for Douglas to tighten up into a Cover Zero look.
Though the softer cushion more resembled Cover 2, Kansas freshman receiver Evan Fairs continued downfield as Montell Cozart threw an off-balance out route that Douglas scooped off the turf.
“I was in the wrong defense, honestly,” Douglas said. “But the quarterback just threw it right to me.”
As the play unfolds below, Gibson is at the bottom of the frame trying to correct the alignment:
It wasn’t the first time Douglas found himself in the wrong coverage yet the right place. The same scenario befell him on a second-half interception against Kansas State.
Lucky breaks aside, Douglas’ transformation into one of the conference’s top cornerbacks is precisely what Gibson anticipated happening last year. But 2015 became a lost chapter after the junior college All-American missed preseason camp awaiting NCAA clearance.
“Last year wasn’t me,” Douglas said. “The year is the me I’m used to.”
Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton recognized a commitment during winter workouts when Douglas lifted alongside safeties Jeremy Tyler and Kyzir White.
“I’ve seen JT and Kyzir throw up a lot of weight, and Rasul would look across the room and make sure his was the same if not more,” Benton said. “I saw right then what type of year he wanted to have, and now he’s having it.”
As high school sophomores in Newark, Benton recalls shutting down the fiery, mouthy Douglas when they faced off as small forwards in a basketball game.
“He didn’t have no points when I was guarding him,” Benton said. “So when he first got here, I had to walk up and talk a little trash about that game. But he’s a great kid. And now that we’re on the same team, I love that guy. Love him.”
Along with five interceptions, Douglas ranks second in the Big 12 with 10 pass breakups and fourth on his team with 41 tackles. After West Virginia saw three defensive backs selected in April’s NFL draft, the long-armed 6-foot-3 Douglas stands a strong chance of being taken next spring.
“He’s playing at a really high level right now,” Gibson said. “The way he’s going, he might get double-digit interceptions. And he’s playing very physical. He made some nice hits (Saturday night).”
From pitching a first-half shutout, the Mountaineers allowed three Kansas touchdowns and 7.8 years per play during the final two quarters. Only another Douglas interception prevented further damage: This time he sniffed out a double-move and boxed out receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez in the end zone to pick off backup quarterback Carter Stanley.
“Even though we were up big in that game, we’ve got to keep pounding and pounding,” Douglas said. ”I think Coach Gibby is going to kill us for that this week.”