Sacks starting to come easy for WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia was one of the last teams in the nation to get a sack, a statistic many made into a big deal, including the Mountaineers, but only because they didn't see much significance in it.
No. 20 WVU (5-1, 1-0 Big East) now has 19 sacks, all in the past four games, including five in last week's win against South Florida. Now No. 11 in the country in sacks, the Mountaineers, who play host to Syracuse (4-2, 1-1) at noon Saturday on ESPN2, still don't think it's a very big deal.
"I don't know whether we're getting more pressure than other times," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "I think you guys were writing about how we didn't have any sacks the first whatever games, but we're running the same things we were running at the beginning of the year. I don't think we're doing anything different. I just think we're doing a little better job at it."
Sacks aren't a goal for the Mountaineers, but they've been coming in bunches, beginning with eight against Maryland. Eight players now have at least a half a sack, led by defensive end Bruce Irvin (five) and linebacker Najee Goode (three).
Goode had two against USF and doubled his career total entering the game. A sack he didn't get served as a better illustration of WVU's philosophy. Late in the first half, Goode blitzed on a first-down pass play and forced quarterback B.J. Daniels to his right and out of the pocket.
Safety Terence Garvin stayed put and didn't chase Daniels or drop back and give the quarterback room to run, which then allowed linebacker Anthony Leonard to pursue from an angle and force a throw.
"What we want to try to do - and not that we don't want sacks - is we want to affect the quarterback," Casteel said. "That's the whole key, whether we sack him or make him move his feet or throw the ball in an uncomfortable position. Those are the things we try to do. Sacks help you because of lost yardage and better field position, but we don't rate our success by having four or five sacks. We rate our success by not giving up points and by winning."
Daniels' throw was into coverage and intercepted by safety Robert Sands at the USF 35-yard line and returned to the 7. WVU scored on the next play, thanks in large part to a defense that's figured out how to play with increasingly effective pressure.
"We expected them to try and move the ball," Sands said. "That's what they do. They live off the big play. When he broke out of the pocket, I kept my eyes on the receiver. The receiver had to break his route off a little shorter."
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NOEL DEVINE carried 13 times, but for just 29 yards. He's had 27 runs in his career go for more yards than he gained against USF. Devine's lowest total as a starter was 17 yards on 12 carries at Pitt in 2008.
His long gain Thursday was 13 yards. He carried only three times, but for 84 yards and two touchdowns against UNLV on Oct. 9 as he recovered from the bone bruise on his right big toe suffered Sept. 25 at LSU.
"He's not as quick as was before he got hurt," Coach Bill Stewart said.
Devine continued his ascent on all-time lists at WVU. He now has 3,885 yards rushing in his career and remains No. 5 in school history and just 40 yards from passing Steve Slaton. Devine added 12 yards receiving and a 25-yard kick return - just his second of the season - and now has 5,177 all-purpose yards in his career. That's the second-best total at WVU and just 446 yards behind Avon Cobourne.
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TYLER BITANCURT made field goals of 24 and 27 yards and now has 20 makes in his career in 25 attempts. He's No. 9 on the career field goal list and tied with Brad Cooper (2003-04) and Ken Juskowich (1967-68).
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INJURED IN the first half against Maryland Sept. 18 and out the past two games, left guard Josh Jenkins returned against USF and got the start. Linebacker Pat Lazear had his most extensive action of the season. He had four tackles, all assists, and played in the middle, sometimes with Leonard, who's started in the middle every game this year. ... The 55-yard kickoff return WVU allowed in the first quarter was the longest of the season. The previous long was 31 yards. The Mountaineers entered the game No. 14 in kickoff return defense and are No. 29 today after ranking among the nation's worst the previous two years. ... Senior cornerback Brantwon Bowser's fourth-quarter interception was the first in his career. Keith Tandy is tied for No. 2 nationally with four interceptions.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.