Defense struggles to make plays when most needed
Published: Sunday, November 6, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 7, 2011 00:11
West Virginia was down 31-28 with 5:13 to play and Louisville was going for a fourth down play just beyond midfield.
The Mountaineer defensive line put all the effort they had into the play and stopped Louisville sophomore running back Dominique Brown in the backfield. But, somehow Brown must have pushed forward because as the players looked up, the referees were spotting the ball past the first down spot- giving the Cardinals another set of downs.
Brown eventually scored on the drive in what would end up being the game-winning touchdown.
"I kind of collapsed the B gap and the A gap, so I stuffed it there and I saw them get the stop in the backfield," said senior defensive end Julian Miller. "I saw the running back's feet stopped so I figured we had it. Then next thing you know I look up and (the referee's) spotting the ball a couple inches past the first down; honestly I thought we had it."
That fourth down play summed up the day for the West Virginia defense. It wasn't able to get a big stop at the right time. The team also made mistakes in other areas, limiting its ability to be successful by having to play catch-up.
There were several plays the Mountaineers would have liked to have back.
At the beginning of the third quarter, senior linebacker Najee Goode intercepted Lousville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's pass and returned it inside the five. An illegal block in the back penalty negated the return and WVU had to start the drive on the Louisville 40-yard line.
"You can't do those things in tight games," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel about the defense's mistakes. "Turnovers – you can't have any and you can't have penalties."
Casteel believes the little mistakes that are hurting the defense is about comprehending the plays in practice and not being able execute them at times during the games. It's not about the "inexperience" of the defense.
"I think it's a lack of understanding how important every play during the week is," he said. "Obviously, when you play, you have to make plays. When you're playing young people, you don't get do-overs; we don't get to reload it on Saturday. I think the kids are getting better, but those are the things that they have to understand. You have to make plays when you get your opportunity."
The fourth-and-one conversion happened on a Louisville drive that lasted more than seven minutes. The defense was not able to make a drive-stopping play to get the ball back and give the offense a chance. Plays like that have been lacking all year.
"The main thing going through my mind was a turnover," said senior linebacker Najee Goode about the final Louisville drive. "We over pursued some plays, but the main thing that coaches were telling us was: ‘We have to get a stop and we have to get a turnover.' We didn't get the ball back to our offense in time."
"It's a game of inches and a game of feet," Goode said. "We messed up on it. Stuff like that shouldn't happen."
The little plays the Mountaineers aren't making are starting to come back to haunt them.
The Cardinals converted on every chance inside the red zone (5-for-5) against the defense.
"We played decent on defense in spurts," said head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Obviously, in the first half we didn't play very good and let the guys convert too many third downs and came out in the second half and played a little better. When we needed a stop, we didn't get it there at the end."