The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 20, 2011

WVU’s defense making a name for itself

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s offense has received so much attention that defensive end Bruce Irvin recalls being asked about it by fans.

Now Irvin can brag about what his side of the ball has been doing.

With the help of his team-leading seven tackles for loss, the defense, which lost seven starters from a year ago, is beginning to find its identity to accompany Geno Smith and the high-scoring offense.

Although no one has stopped Irvin lately to talk about his unit, he says flying below the radar is what the Mountaineer defense thrives on.

“That’s how we like it,” said Irvin, a senior. “Just got to go out there, do our job. Clock in and clock out.”

Irvin and his teammates are starting to pile up the sacks and the defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in seven quarters. The streak would have been longer had Bowling Green’s Jerry Gates not returned a kickoff 77 yards to put the defense in an early hole three weeks ago.

Through six games this year, four opponents have been held to less than 300 total yards and West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East) now ranks 18th nationally in total defense.

Even when 11th-ranked West Virginia looked its worst, during a 47-21 loss Sept. 24 to No. 1 LSU, the defense allowed only 366 yards despite being saddled time and time again with a short field due to the Tigers’ dominance on special teams.

Offensive-minded coach Dana Holgorsen singled out the defense for its dominant performance in a 43-16 win over Connecticut two weeks ago. The defense registered five sacks — one for a safety — and allowed 97 yards after halftime. UConn’s only touchdown came on an interception return.

“I certainly agree they played their best game and continue to mesh together as a group,” Holgorsen said.

While the recent defensive success can be attributed to more cohesion as the season progresses, senior cornerback Keith Tandy is adamant that the defense’s personality is all about speed. It allows the secondary to play more aggressively, knowing there will be a swarm to the ball.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is have everyone flying around when we we’re on defense,” Tandy said. “We’re a smaller defense than we were last year but we’ve got more speed.”

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said he hopes the defense will continue to improve on Friday night at Syracuse (4-2, 0-1).

“We’ve made some strides the last couple weeks,” Casteel said. “We’ve been trying to play a complete game.”

West Virginia will play four of its final six regular-season games on the road. Instead of feeding off a noisy home crowd, Tandy said the defense will be dedicated to silencing opponents’ fans.

“It’s actually a better feeling when you can quiet the other team’s crowd,” Tandy said.

West Virginia’s only road test so far was Sept. 17 when the defense nearly squandered a 24-point lead in the second half against Maryland.

The defense’s task in the second half of the season will be mighty. The last time West Virginia went unbeaten on the road in the regular season was 2005, when it won the Big East title and went to the Sugar Bowl.

“We want to be remembered for winning games,” Casteel said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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