May 6, 2016
It’s a name that just rolls off the tongue – Noble wah-CHOO-Koo – like some of my other all-time favorite names: Coco Crisp, Milton Bradley, Longar Longar, God Shammgod, Danger Fourpence, Wolfgang Wolf, Yinka Dare, Samoa Samoa, Blue Moon Odom, Picabo Street, World B. Free, I.M. Hipp, Captain Munnerlyn, Majestic Mapp, Scientific Mapp, Bake McBride and Tim Biakabutuka, to name a few.
Noble, according to a text message he recently sent back to director of football communications Mike Montoro, indicated that he wasn’t sure if there was a backstory to his name, other than that it was his parents’ choosing.
So, Mr. or Mrs. Nwachukwu, if you’re reading any of our stuff, send us an email and let us know how you came up with the name Noble because it’s brilliant – and very fitting for one of the better returning defensive players in the Big 12 Conference for 2016.
Nwachukwu’s 8½ sacks last season were fifth-most in the league, which is quite an accomplishment for a Mountaineer defensive lineman considering West Virginia has struggled mightily getting to the quarterback since it joined the league four seasons ago.
In 2012, the entire team sacked the quarterback just 23 times; a year later, that number dipped to 16 and then two years ago it only improved slightly to 20. That’s 59 sacks in 1,290 pass attempts over a three-year period, which is not a good prescription for success in the pass-happy Big 12.
Last year, bolstered by Nwachukwu’s total, the Mountaineers got to the quarterback a much-improved 29 times in 466 pass attempts, but there is still a lot of room for growth in that aspect of West Virginia’s defensive play.
Speaking of growth, that is precisely what veteran defensive line coach Bruce Tall is seeking from his veteran group of players this year, led by the guy named Noble.
“You hope this will be his best year yet,” Tall said of his senior leader. “He’s got to challenge himself – and he has. He’s got to set the bar even higher and he’s got to keep working hard and keep improving on the things he does well. He did a real nice job at the end of the year, and now he’s got to keep it going.”
Last season, there were a lot of crooked numbers next to Nwachukwu’s name in some key defensive stat categories – 47 total tackles, 13 tackles for losses and 8½ sacks – plus some career numbers that include 86 total tackles, 22 tackles for losses, 11½ sacks, five pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles.
That’s not too bad when you consider Nwachukwu was originally recruited to play in Keith Patterson’s 3-4 defensive scheme and had never played in the 3-3 stack before. Nwachukwu shrugged when asked if changing schemes was that big of a deal to him.
“I can’t complain because everything has worked out for me,” he said.
Indeed, it has.
What makes Nwachukwu so effective in this defense is a great first step and his innate ability to twist and contort his body in ways to keep offensive linemen from getting their hands on him.
He’s also got a few killer moves that he’s perfected through the years, which enable him to get a clear path to the quarterback. Nwachukwu said Tall is helping him add a few more moves to his repertoire as well.
“I think there is a lot to add,” he said. “I have two or three moves that are my go-to moves, but I think there is a lot that I can potentially add. Coach Tall has taught me tons of things since he’s been here.”
That includes when and when not to unleash that new killer spin move he’s been working on in practice. Nwachukwu said he will experiment a lot during one-on-one drills to see if a particular move will work or how the blocker reacts to it.
And if it works well and it doesn’t blow up the defense he might try it during team period. If it works there then he will consider using it during games, with the understanding that he can’t just come up with something off the wall that doesn’t fit within the context of the defense.
Doing so can leave a gap entirely uncovered, which is a prescription for disaster in Tony Gibson’s defense the way he likes to bring pressure.
“That won’t exactly work,” Nwachukwu chuckled. “You’ve got to find the right balance with that.”
From Tall’s perspective, Nwachukwu does many instinctive things that are difficult for a coach to teach. He explains.
“He’s got great hip rotation so he knows how to slither through or make himself skinny to get through the gap,” Tall said. “He’s also got good burst with the speed to get through and finish things.
“He’s pretty crafty, and he’s perfect for this defense,” Tall added.
“Some moves set up other moves,” Nwachukwu explained. “If I fake inside and come outside, maybe next time I don’t fake and stay inside. I just try and balance it out and not do the same thing too much.”
One aspect of West Virginia’s play Nwachukwu and the rest of the Mountaineer defense would like to see remain the same is their effectiveness on third down.
Last year, West Virginia allowed its opponents to convert just 31.7 percent of their third-down tries, second in the Big 12 behind TCU.
WVU was also very good a creating turnovers – a league-best 31 in 13 games – several of those coming as a result of Nwachukwu and the guys up front getting more heat on the quarterback.
West Virginia is going to be very young and inexperienced in the back end this year, meaning Nwachukwu and the veteran players lined up next to him are going to have to pick up some of the slack – something Tall believes they are very capable of doing.
“Last year, as I explained to them, they kind of were the X-factor because they weren’t talked about as much,” he said. “(This year) they’ve got to be THE factor.”
“We’ve got to play to our strengths,” Nwachukwu added. “As long as we take care of our sides and balance up the defense, we should be good.”
Now, if only we could come up with a name for this year’s defensive line?
Come to think of it, since the Nwachukwus are so good at names, perhaps they have a few ideas they can share with us.