The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 18, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Irvin’s legend building

MORGANTOWN — Here’s a promise. Sometime before Bruce Irvin’s career at West Virginia is over, it will happen.

Third down, passing situation, quarterback in the shotgun, barking signals.

“TWO-TWENTY-FOUR, BLACK! TWO-TWENTY-FOUR, BLACK! HUT! HUT!”

The center will be just a half count late with the snap. Maybe he won’t have quite the grip he wants on the ball, but the exchange will be legal but just a tick slower than normal.

The ball will float to the quarterback, who will reach for it, only to have this blur come across his vision from his right, streaking in front of him as the ball arrives, picking it off in full stride and bounding 74 yards down the field for a touchdown.

It’s going to happen because Bruce Irvin, WVU’s sack machine, is that fast.

That, at least, is the legend that is building.

If the world could believe Satchel Paige’s tale that Cool Papa Bell was so fast that he could turn the light switch off in a hotel and be in bed before the room got dark, they can believe that Irvin’s pass rush is fast enough to beat the ball to the quarterback.

He laughs when you ask him if it’s possible, doesn’t say yes and doesn’t say no, but understands that he is causing so much havoc with opponents in his first season of major college football after playing junior college ball in California that teams are starting to pay special attention to him.

That’s what happens when you are only used in pass-rushing situations, getting maybe 13 or 14 plays a game, and led the team with eight sacks good for 50 yards in losses.

“Teams are starting to scheme on me, but I expected that,” he said. “You gotta expect that when you get sacks. It’s the game. They’re gonna game plan on you. I’ll be all right.”

Maybe.

Cincinnati went to special ends to make sure he didn’t get the quarterback.

“In the two-minute drill, they were trying to kill me,” he said. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk off the field.”

If you think that bothered him, guess again. It’s almost like the old Maxwell Smart line from the 1960s TV spy spoof, starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart.

President: “Now you realize, Mr. Smart, once KAOS learns your mission, they’ll stop at nothing. You’ll be in imminent danger, constant jeopardy, facing death at every turn.”

Maxwell Smart: “And … loving it.”

That, you see, is how it is when you may be the nation’s best pass rusher.

“I bring a little certain spark to the defense when I come in. When I come in, I go hard. I at least try to get pressure and collapse the pocket,” he said.

There’s just one problem.

Bruce Irvin does not see himself as just a pass rusher.

You’ve seen it all before. Michael Jordan wasn’t content being the world’s greatest basketball player. He wanted to be a baseball star. Internationally acclaimed opera singer Renee Fleming gives rock ’n roll a shot.

One does not expect Renée Fleming to be singing lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body”. But she does it in a recent release:

“I want to live where soul meets body

And let the sun wrap its arms around me

And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing

And feel, feel what its like to be new”

So it is with Irvin.

“I hate being labeled as just a pass rusher,” he said. “I could do more than just be a pass rusher. Shoot, I had 72 tackles last year in junior college. I know, junior college is junior college, but it ain’t easy, either.

“I’ve got some learning to do, but I can be an every-down player.”

In the end, that’s all anyone really wants, and that is to participate as much as they can, to spread their wings and fly.

“I would like to play more. I’m not going to lie. I’m content. I can’t complain. Some people aren’t playing at all,” he said. “Everyone wants to play and being used like this lessens my chances of getting injured. I’m good. I’ve got healthy knees. I’ve got healthy arms. I’m not complaining. I’m healthy, still flying around and doing good.”

And so is the defense, ranked fourth in the nation.

“We’re really clicking,” Irvin said. “This is a great group of guys. Everyone has each other’s back. We play for each other.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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