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WVU Is Too Generous Late in The First Halves

November 8, 2009

MORGANTOWN - Looking for a specific disturbing trend involving West Virginia this season?

Never mind the 2-minute offense, which often produces, what about the 30-second defense, which rarely does?

At least as that pertains to the first half of games.

Would you believe that twice this season when the Mountaineers have scored a touchdown with fewer than 50 seconds remaining in a half, opposing teams have come back and posted a score - one touchdown, one field goal - using fewer than 30 seconds to cover the necessary ground after a kickoff?

And that's just in the last two home games.

Defensive end Julian Miller surely has noticed.

It seems to be a completely different deal at the end of games. When Louisville had the ball on its final drive with a chance to tie Saturday, Miller recorded two of his three sacks and the WVU defense forced the Cardinals into a fourth-and-24 before diminutive quarterback Will Stein threw an incomplete pass into triple coverage to end things.

''I'd say it was more within ourselves, not play-calling or anything,'' Miller said. ''It was more of, 'Ok, this is the end of the game, they can either score and tie us or we stop them and we get to go home with the win.' I think, almost as every team, when it comes down to crunch time, you have to step it up.''

But at the end of the half, Louisville took possession on its own 45 with 30 seconds left after WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jock Sanders, putting the Mountaineers up 7-3.

Louisville went 28 yards in five plays after Trent Guy's 33-yard kickoff return and sent in Chris Philpott for a 44-yard field goal 28 seconds later.

''That's not the first time that's happened to us this season,'' Miller correctly pointed out. ''I think that's just something we have to work on as a defense to be able to play tougher coming down crunch time going into the half. We have to play it the same way as we would at the end of the game.''

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart says it starts with the kickoff, which is part of the reason he's made the switch from Josh Lider to the stronger-legged Tyler Bitancurt on the kickoff team.

''Don't let them out,'' he said. ''You kick the ball. That's why I think No. 3 (Guy) is going to play on Sunday. We had three guys miss him. Three guys, Big East football. We tackled him every other time, knocked him right to the ground. All the punts, we changed field position. I can say it over and over. The kicking game totally changed field position all day. Except on one kickoff, and that's the one that got us right before the half.''

In this case, Bitancurt, who did have a touchback, sailed the kickoff into the wind only to the 12.

''Personally, I have to kick the ball better,'' he said. ''I'm trying to help the team out the best I can. So if I can work on getting those extra 5, 10 yards on kickoff, it's tough, but I take that on me if they return the ball well.''

A very similar scenario happened against UConn, two weeks earlier.

After Brown scored on a 5-yard run with 49 seconds left in the half of that game, the Huskies moved the ball right down the field and scored 28 seconds later, when quarterback Cody Endres threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kashif Moore.

In that case, Lider's kickoff was taken at the 4 by Robbie Frey and returned 38 yards to the 42 to start things.

It wasn't as glaring against East Carolina - another home game but it wasn't exactly good either.

In that game, after Alric Arnett caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 2:12 showing, Patrick Pinkney and Jamar Bryant were celebrating in the end zone after a 4-yard pitch-and-catch with 11 seconds left before the band hit the field

If you're looking for a silver lining here, the Mountaineers scored with 1:21 left in the first half against Colorado - on a 6-yard TD reception by Sanders - and they held when Sidney Glover picked off a Cody Hawkins pass with 15 seconds remaining. It should be noted, though, that Colorado moved the ball 36 yards in four plays prior to the interception, and was in potential field goal range at the WVU 32-yard line when the ill-fated pass was thrown.

They're all examples that show how good West Virginia's 2-minute offense has been. And most show how much work the 30-second defense needs.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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