The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 3, 2011

Mountaineer defense builds back up

MORGANTOWN — The football wasn’t the only thing that was passed on Friday night, as Dana Holgorsen debuted his MountainAir offense in the Blue-Gold scrimmage.

So, too, was the torch passed during the spring game, moving from the defense to the offense.

A year ago, you might recall, the defense carried the Mountaineers to their third straight nine-victory season.

It was no secret to anyone that the defense was the heart and soul of the team. That is why the offensive staff was fired and Holgorsen was brought in to reinvent offense in West Virginia.

It is why the Mountaineers had four defensive players drafted by the NFL — cornerback Brandon Hogan, safety Robert Sands, linebacker J.T. Thomas and nose guard Chris Neild — just the second time that has happened since the NFL went to a seven-round draft.

But now, with the bones of the defense having been picked clean by NFL talent scouts, it appears that defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has some work ahead of him reassembling a group that dominant.

Certainly his players understand that after giving up 83 “points” — the scrimmage game had its own type of scoring system that awarded points for first downs in addition to traditional scores — they have a lot of room to improve.

It began with Bruce Irvin, the pass-rushing defensive end who is on a one-way track to the NFL next year.

"I see a defense that needs a lot of work," he said after recording only one tackle for a loss on Friday. "We're giving up big plays to the (second-team offense). That's not going to cut it; not when we got LSU and Maryland and UConn on our schedule."

Cornerback Keith Tandy was among the most highly decorated of last year’s defenders and he, too, saw reason for concern.

“Today we took a big step back, so we have to correct that this summer,” he said.

Now there is some good news in this. The No. 1 defense was not the one that was scorched, as it went against the No. 2 offense while the starting offense buried the No. 2 defense, which definitely was lacking against Geno Smith’s passing, which netting 388 yards and four touchdowns.

In fact, the first-team defense gave up only seven points, but it was obvious that it wasn’t dominant against a second team that had a freshman quarterback who barely is out of high school in freshman Paul Millard.

"Yeah, they just scored once,'' Tandy said. "But we weren't going against the starters so we felt like they shouldn't have scored at all or moved the ball at all.”

What’s more, Millard, who had all of 14 practices in the offense after coming out of a Texas high school early, was quite efficient. Never having faced a college defense before, he passed for 253 yards during the game, most of it against the No. 1 defense. He also completed 18 of 30 passes, two of them for touchdowns.

It’s true that the defense is being rebuilt by defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but certainly no more than the offense.

“We have a lot of young guys that haven’t played too much. Being in front of a crowd is different than practice. You go through the motions every day but when you get in front of a crowd, with people watching you, there is pressure,” Tandy said. "They messed up a little bit, but they'll bounce back from it.''

The veterans on the first team performed well, the likes of Irvin and Tandy and Julian Miller, a defensive tackle, while cornerback Pat Miller and safeties Terence Garvin and Darwin Cook were fine.

But there is a lot of rebuilding to do and one spot that seemed to be taken care of, nose guard with Jorge Wright, is now in doubt as he was arrested after a traffic stop on Thursday for having marijuana and a concealed weapon in the car.

Coach Bill Stewart was to meet with the police on Monday to investigate what happened.

While there are a lot of new players coming in when the team gathers again in the summer, Casteel isn’t counting on them to carry the defense.

"We're really going to win or lose with the guys we have here right now. There may be a kid or two who steps in and plays, but defensively, it's really tough to come in and play," he said.

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