WVU defense must improve quickly
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 07:09
Last weekend, the Maryland Terrapins proved that West Virginia’s defense is going to need noticeable improvements heading into Big 12 Conference play, which begins Saturday at home against Baylor.
The Mountaineer defensive unit was stout against the capable offense of James Madison just a week before, but it was consistently exploited throughout Saturday’s contest by the Terps, the No. 119 defense in the NCAA with a woeful 258 yards per game of total offense heading into the game.
Maryland only scored 21 points on 351 total yards against the Mountaineers, so it wasn’t necessarily a huge outburst, but the Terps consistently seemed to pick up the yardage needed in big spots against West Virginia’s defense – most noticeably and consistently in underneath throws from Maryland’s quarterback Perry Hills to a myriad of Terrapin receivers.
Their rushing attack was contained well – the Terps barely averaged more than a yard per carry.
But the fact that a true freshman quarterback was able to throw for 305 yards and three touchdowns in his fourth collegiate start after getting off to a fairly slow start against teams like William & Mary and Temple was far from comforting for Mountaineer supporters.
Maryland was obviously a noticeable step up talent-wise compared to both Marshall and James Madison, as it was the first true BCS-Conference team the Mountaineers faced this season. But again, Maryland also had the reputation of being a
defensive team, if anything.
The success of the Terrapins offense against the Mountaineer defense played an immensely important factor in the game in more than one way, because Geno Smith and the explosive Mountaineer offense were either kept off the field, or out of
rhythm due to the length
of some of Maryland’s drives.
And this was something quarterback Geno Smith and the offense didn’t
have to deal with in either of their first two nonconference victories against Marshall and James Madison.
It’s how the best offenses usually get beat: the opponent keeps the team’s defense out on the field, and the explosive offensive personnel stands idle on the sidelines waiting for a stop. The best teams do this by exploiting defenses on critical downs, which has been probably the biggest single issue for the Mountaineer defense throughout three games in 2012.
The Mountaineers allowed Maryland to convert on 50 percent of its third down attempts – a percentage that was even higher throughout the majority of Saturday’s game.
It’s an issue West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen brought up immediately after the season opener with Marshall. If WVU can’t correct this aspect quickly, opposing Big 12 offenses will be able to rule time of possession and continue to keep WVU’s dynamic players off the field.
The bright spot is that – ultimately – West Virginia’s defense did indeed play well enough to win the game by a double-digit margin. A lot of that had to do with the fact that although the defense gave up their share of yards and three scores, but more importantly, it was also able to force some
extremely critical turnovers and even scored a defensive touchdown on Doug Rigg’s 51-yard
fumble recovery. The players were able to make the big plays when it mattered most.
The Mountaineers will almost always be at an advantage when the defense can cause these turnovers because Geno Smith has shown an excellent ability to take care of the ball and manage the offense, but it can also be dangerous to always rely on forcing turnovers to be consistently successful, especially against the usually efficient offenses of the Big 12.
These in-conference offenses West Virginia will face over the next few months, beginning with Saturday’s game against a Baylor team that is averaging more than 51 points per game, will test the Mountaineers in more ways than any of the non-conference opponents were able.
Because of this, the defense must continue to improve in its new scheme as the undefeated Mountaineers begin to really make their case for another BCS bowl appearance.