Column - WVU defense impressive in opener
Published: Monday, September 5, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 5, 2011 22:09
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith stole the show Sunday.
The running game struggled to get going, and the offensive line had a tough time slowing down the Marshall defense.
But honestly, none of that should have taken anyone by surprise.
One pleasant surprise that should be taken from the Mountaineers' 34-13 win over Marshall was the stellar performance on the defensive side of the ball.
Not many people were sure how the WVU defense would look after losing seven starters from last year's team that finished near the top five nationally in just about every statistical category. The experienced group, which consisted of Chris Neild, J.T. Thomas, Brandon Hogan and Robert Sands, was replaced with players like Jorge Wright, Doug Rigg, Pat Miller and Eain Smith.
The players who started Sunday had taken a lot of snaps in their Mountaineer careers, but not many had been looked to take on the role as a consistent starter.
With the exceptions of senior defensive end Julian Miller, senior cornerback Keith Tandy, junior linebacker Najee Goode and junior safety Terence Garvin, the starters on this year's WVU defense only started a total of four games in 2010.
That didn't seem to matter against Marshall, as the Mountaineer defense looked very good in its first time against a team that wasn't wearing the same jerseys.
It was the WVU defense that played a big part in getting the momentum back into the favor of the Mountaineers after the Thundering Herd seemed to have control out of the gates.
Marshall came out on its first drive of the game and completed a few passes and got into WVU territory, only to stall and come up short on fourth down to turn it over on downs.
After the Mountaineers kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3, the WVU defense responded with three impressive drives in a row. It held the Marshall offense to just six yards on the 11 plays it ran in those three drives.
Not long after those three drives, West Virginia found itself up 20-7 and in control of the game.
The Mountaineers had another drive where they held th Herd to negative yards after the restart of the game and they didn't allow a touchdown to the Marshall offense.
The only points the Mountaineer defense surrendered in the game were because of two Tyler Warner field goals.
That's a feat that was accomplished three times by last year's defense, but it wasn't one that many people expected to see out of this unit.
It really shouldn't be much of a surprise though. After all, the Mountaineer defense is run by Jeff Casteel, one of the best defensive minds in the country.
But there was at least one thing the defensive players pointed out when they talked about room for improvement following Sunday's game – and it was the one area they weren't exceptionally good in last season, either.
They want to force more turnovers.
If this defense can find a way to get the other team to make mistakes, throw more interceptions or fumble the ball, it could be a really good season for this group.
Or at least it can be if they keep up the way they played Sunday.