Column - Defense made plays at right times against Cincinnati
Published: Sunday, November 13, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 14, 2011 00:11
Under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, the West Virginia defense has always been known to live by a motto: "Bend, but don't break."
Offenses may be able to pile up yards and put together good drives against the Mountaineers from time to time, but they rarely come away with a lot of points.
That's changed the last few weeks.
Starting with its loss to Syracuse, WVU has hit one of it's tougher stretches since Casteel took over defense in 2003.
In the three games leading up to the Mountaineers' win over Cincinnati Saturday, the defense had allowed 118 points – the most in any three-game period since Casteel was hired.
They needed something to get them moving in the right direction. Eventually, the tough breaks they were getting had to shift over into their favor.
That's exactly what happened against the Bearcats.
Sure, there were times when the Mountaineers struggled to stop Cincinnati senior Isaiah Pead. Backup quarterback Munchie Legaux sometimes gave the defense fits. But, at the same time, WVU was finally able to do something it hadn't been able to accomplish in those previous three games.
Even after giving up some big plays, they were able to come up with big stops and force turnovers when they needed them the most.
"Once the kids settled in and we executed a little better, then those big runs go away," Casteel said. "They'll play 10 plays pretty good and then the 11th one, something bad happens. We've just got to continue to fight through that.
"You've got to love the way the kids rebounded from it and we talked about that (Saturday) morning that these guys were going to make some plays. You've just got to survive and don't let the last play affect the next one."
That has been one of the toughest things for WVU this year. Maybe it's just the players being perfectionists, but there are always plenty of things they point out upon which the team can improve.
From the way they talk, one wouldn't even know that this is a defensive unit ranking No. 28 in the nation for total defense.
"It's not that bad," Casteel said. "Things just have a tendency to get harped on. And I think the kids, they really worry about what we do and how we go about our business day to day. That's what we have to worry about – not what everybody else thinks or what not."
This is the time of year when West Virginia has to play its best football. Like last year, the Mountaineers have backed themselves into a corner by losing games they shouldn't have.
With two games left in the season, they have to be as close to perfect as they possibly can.
While the defense is far from perfect, strides were made against Cincinnati.
Things that have been big problems recently for WVU are its red zone defense, holding opponents on third downs and getting off the field to give the explosive offense a chance to put more points on the board.
They were able to improve in those areas Saturday against one of the better offenses in the league.
Casteel and his defense definitely aren't quite where they want to be yet. There's still a lot of room for them to grow, but they were able to take some steps in the right direction Saturday with the way they made big stops when they were desperately needed.
"It's about winning games and trying to get better," Casteel said. "That's what the kids are focused on."