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Mountaineer Minute: Defense Wants to Author Own Story

September 8, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - There's only one group of people who grow tired of hearing about how good West Virginia's defense was last season.

That's this year's WVU defenders.

''The whole time over the summer, we've been saying we've got to try and start our own identity,'' cornerback Pat Miller said. ''Identify us as the 2011 defense and be better than the defense from last year.''

That's a lofty idea.

Paden City native Jeff Casteel's guys were downright rude last season, giving up an average of 2.7 yards per rush and 86.5 rushing yards per game. They held eight of 13 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards, yielded an average of 13.5 points per game and never allowed more than 23. When it was all said and done, the Mountaineers ranked third in scoring defense, second in rushing defense, second in sacks, 11th in pass defense, second in third-down defense, second in first-down defense, and tied for 26th in tackles for loss.

In their season opener, the defense that lost four NFL Draft picks and two others who got a look in NFL camps, was even better. Sure, the game was shortened by 15 minutes and an upgraded Mountaineers offense stayed on the field longer than last year's unit typically did, but the numbers looked just fine.

The Mountaineers held the Thundering Herd to 72 rushing yards and 187 total yards. They had seven tackles for losses.

But as junior defensive back Terence Garvin, perhaps a future song writer, put it: ''We've still got a lot of getting better to do.''

Similar, albeit less poetic, words were uttered from a lot of WVU defenders after the tape of the Marshall game was dissected.

''We only gave up two field goals, that was a pretty good for a confidence boost,'' defensive lineman Julian Miller said. ''But after looking at the film, there were a lot of mental mistakes, a couple guys not doing the right things on blitzes and stuff - stuff like that you can't get really a good tell or a feel (during the game).

''Everybody is capable of doing what we have to do. Play within the defense. That was one thing last year's defense was really good at was playing within the defense, and (being) where they had to be. That's one thing that this defense is getting better at, but I think it will take week-by-week.''

Linebacker Doug Rigg saw some positives in all the negativity during that film session.

''I think we were able to confuse them,'' he said. ''This is a very tough scheme to pick up blocking-wise. It's good that we made the mistakes because we only gave up six points and we have plenty to work on.''

They'll get a chance to show how far they've come Saturday against Norfolk State, an FCS opponent that was a big statistics builder for a four-victory Rutgers team a season ago. It might help that NSU does a lot of the same things that WVU does on offense. Rigg and the guys practice against it every day.

''They run zones and all those different types of plays,'' Rigg said. ''Seeing that all the time, you're naturally able to fit into the play. You don't really need to think, 'Hey what do I do?' You really just play against your own offense and look at the same keys and you'll be able to play against this team.

''It's very similar except they motion a lot. If you align right and look at the linemen, it's all the same. The motion is just for confusion.''

When Dana Holgorsen came aboard, everyone figured the offense would be the story of the 2011 Mountaineers.

The guys' innovative offense reputation got off the plane before Holgorsen even got on it. If they scored enough, the thought was, West Virginia would win.

The defense just needed to be complementary.

But that would never happen with Casteel, one of the finest defensive coordinators in the country, in charge.

He's been at it for a while, and he's never really had a bad defense under his watch. It was only when the offense showed some real deficiencies last season that anyone noticed.

Even with an offense that puts up 34 points in three quarters, that defense still has everyone's eye.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: