By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Having always been of the belief that if you are going to steal the written words of another, it is best to make sure they have stated it far better than you ever could.
So it is that today we offer the words Charles Dickens used to begin his magnificent classic “A Tale of Two Cities”:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ...”
And so it was for West Virginia University’s football team on Saturday.
The Dickens, you say?
True, it was the best of times on the offensive side of the ball, but on the defensive side there were far too many moments it was “the age of foolishness,” “the season of darkness” and “the winter of despair.”
Indeed, while the offense was scoring 69 points, the defense was giving up 34.
This, of course, makes one wonder if Marshall scores 34 points, if it can run 101 plays, if it can gain 545 yards, what will Oklahoma and Oklahoma State do when the Big 12 season heats up?
Everyone knew the defense would be problematic, this being the first year of a new 3-4 scheme with a number of key players including defensive end Bruce Irvin and cornerback Keith Tandy having moved on to the NFL.
Even Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered offense had growing pains a year ago, scoring just 23 points against Syracuse, 24 against Louisville and 21 against Pitt.
If that could be, how could you expect that this defense would simply come out of the gate in dominating fashion?
“We’ve got to make some adjustments obviously,” new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. “I think our kids played hard, but we had some busts at times. That happens in the first game.”
The mark of a good defense is an ability to make the big play at the big moment, and in football games every third down is a big moment.
“We couldn’t get off the field on third down,” DeForest admitted. “At halftime they were at 50 percent and that’s something that can’t happen. We did a great job on first and second down and we gave up on third down.”
The result was that Marshall was able to play keep away for much of the game.
“That’s why we’ve got to find some depth,” he said. “But when you play 101 plays ... that’s our fault as a defense. You’ve got to get off the field.”
Earlier this year, in explaining his defensive philosophy, DeForest noted that the key to the defense they are putting together is turnovers even more than dominating on third down. They see that as a big play that turns the momentum in a game and certainly they were able to succeed in that area, even though Rakeem Cato was throwing for 413 yards out of a 38-for-54 performance.
There was an interception by linebacker Doug Rigg, which he ran to the 3, the equivalent of forcing a punt and having Tavon Austin run it back to the 3.
And then there was a huge play on the only sack in the game. Think about that, if you will, Marshall throwing the ball 58 times and being sacked only once from a defense that is built around creating pressure on the quarterback.
That sack belonged to safety-turned-Star linebacker Terence Garvin, who also saw to it that it was a sack, grabbing Cato’s arm to pry loose the football.
Enter now the shining knight of the defense, a newcomer named Jeremy Bruce who spent last season redshirting.
Bruce scooped up the loose football and sprinted 43 yards for a defensive touchdown.
“I saw T Garv go for the ball as he was trying to get a strip and a sack,” Bruce explained. “I saw the ball on the ground and I was trying to make a play. He said, ‘Man, you should have at least gave me the ball back.’”
The touchdown was, obviously, more of a freak happening — right place, right time — or was it?
Bruce spent most of his time in the right place, finishing the day with 16 tackles, which could label him as a budding star around whom this new defense can be constructed.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.