Skip to main content

Will West Virginia Repeat Their 2020 Defensive Success in 2021?

West Virginia featured a top defense in 2020. Can they repeat that success in 2021?

West Virginia featured one of the best defenses in the NCAA in 2020. They ranked fifth in the country in yards allowed (300.9) and 25th in points allowed (21.7) per game. They held their opponents to fewer than 25 points in 7 of their 10 games. Will West Virginia repeat that success throughout the 2021 season? 

Defensive Line

The Mountaineers will have a new-look defensive line this season. They only return one key factor from 2020 - Dante Stills. Stills is the most important piece, though, as he's on the watch list for the 75th Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Award. He's one of the best defensive players in the nation, and he'll anchor this defensive line. 

VanDarius Cowan is likely to take over at the BANDIT position. He flashed in 2020, recording 17 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks in only 4 games. He's primed to take a step forward, as well. 

Akheem Mesidor will take over at nose tackle, providing a high upside option next to Stills after recording 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks over 9 games last season. 

The final piece to the puzzle is Taijh Alston Jr., who saw very limited action last season due to injury. If he can hold his own, this will be another formidable defensive front. 


West Virginia lost quite a few linebackers, although their group should continue to produce at a high level this season. Josh Chandler-Semedo returns as the middle linebacker, leading the group. He recorded 64 tackles with 1 interception over 9 games last season, and he could take another step forward in the middle of the defense. 

Exree Loe is expected to start next to Chandler-Semedo after being labeled the starter on their depth chart before their matchup against Maryland. He posted 45 tackles over 9 games last season. If Loe struggles early, Penn State transfer Lance Dixon could take over the starting role, adding depth and competition to the linebacker group. 

Defensive Back

The Mountaineers will return three starters in their secondary. Safeties Sean Mahone and Alonzo Addae will return to the lineup along with cornerback Nicktroy Fortune. This trio should put their secondary in a great position once again, especially early in the season.

They have a few more options they can rotate in at cornerback to fill out the secondary this season. Daryl Porter Jr. is expected to start with true freshman Aubrey Burks playing a contributing role in the defense this season. Ultimately, this shouldn't be a massive drop-off, if any, from last season's secondary. 

Scottie Young was forced to sit out last season due to transfer rules. Young will take over at the Spear position, though, and he's expected to slide in as a leader of this defense. It'll be hard to fully reproduce the success of Tykee Smith but many believe Young has the capabilities. 


It'll be difficult for West Virginia to repeat the success from 2020 simply because they were so good. With that being said, it isn't out of the question. The Mountaineers feature several outstanding defensive options, and they are only likely to take a small step back, if at all, in 2021. This is a defensive squad that can put their team in great spots to find wins. 

READ MORE: What the ESPN FPI Says About West Virginia's Chances vs Maryland

READ MORE: West Virginia's Keys to the Game vs Maryland

READ MORE: REPORT: Big 12 Could Expand as Early as Next Week

You can follow us for future coverage by clicking "Follow" on the page's top righthand corner. Also, be sure to like us on Facebook & Twitter:

Facebook - @WVUonSI

Twitter - @SI_WVU and Justin Bales at @BalesSJustin