WVU football: Miller, Francis spark solid defensive play
AUSTIN, Texas - When West Virginia's defense needed to do something to disrupt the Texas offense Saturday, linebacker Josh Francis found himself at the feet of quarterback David Ash with a way to get his team's only sack of the game.
Probably not a surprise, seeing that Francis has made a noticeable difference making plays off the edge and is tied for No. 10 nationally with 1.9 tackles for a loss per game.
The last of his three against Texas set up a third-and-13. When the Texas offense needed a play one down later to stay in the game, the Longhorns found cornerback Pat Miller.
Probably not a surprise, either, especially to Miller. He had a large share of shaky moments a week earlier against Baylor and heard fans cheer when he was removed from the game after allowing a long pass. He had to live with that in the days that followed.
"It was a tough week," the senior from Birmingham, Ala., said. "It was real tough, real hard to bounce back from a game like that. A lot of people were criticizing us as a defense and me personally. A lot of people were criticizing me."
With Texas looking for 13 yards to get a first down in a game they were trailing 41-38, Miller lined up about 6 yards across from his opponent. The extra room he and cornerback Brodrick Jenkins had been seen giving to receivers throughout the first four-plus games was gone. When the receiver ran the route and stopped at the first-down marker, Miller was right there.
He barged into the play and knocked the ball cleanly to the ground to turn the Longhorns over on downs. It didn't clinch the game No. 5 WVU won 48-45, but it helped.
"Pat Miller," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said, "is a huge reason why we won this game."
Miller finished with five tackles, two pass breakups and a tackle for a loss. That tackle was big, too. On third down at WVU's 8-yard line one drive after Miller's fourth-down play, a snap sailed past Ash and Miller recovered for a 13-yard loss to force a 38-yard field goal that missed to the right.
With Miller involved, the pass defense that a week earlier allowed 581 yards and five touchdowns was better against the Longhorns.
Texas passed for 269 yards, but a running back led the team with six receptions and running backs accounted for 113 yards. The receivers totaled 12 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown a week after Baylor's Terrance Williams had 17 receptions for 314 yards.
Neither Miller nor his teammates were perfect, and they admit it, but it was a timely change in a new direction.
"We were way better," Miller said. "We knew what to expect. We knew what was at stake. We were getting bashed all types of ways last week by the media and critics. People were down on our defense and down on me and we didn't appreciate the way people were acting toward us."
The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) entered the game ranked No. 118 out of 120 teams in pass defense and were allowing 352.75 yards per game. While they were relieved and impressed by their performance against Texas (4-1, 1-1) and Ash, who entered the game second only to WVU's Geno Smith in passer efficiency, what they allowed would still rank No. 90 if it was their average.
As it is, the Mountaineers remain No. 117 and allowed five more 20-yard plays and two more 40-yard plays, bringing their season totals to 29 and 10, respectively.
Yet, literally, things weren't half as bad as last week and Miller at least succeeded where he and others failed last week. When the ball was in the air on his key play, he managed to do something about it. WVU's cornerbacks have often had to chase and tackle opponents who would catch passes alone in space.
"Sometimes we'll be in a cover 3 where we're covering the deep third of the field, so we have to play with depth," he said. "It's not like we're in man coverage every time. If we played man, we wouldn't be off that far in coverage. If you're out there in man coverage all day, then we can step up and make plays and make them work off the line. If we play cover 3 coverage, everyone's got his assignment to do and our job is to play that back third."
If Miller sounds attuned to the criticisms thrown his way, it's because he is.
"He knows what everyone on ESPN said about the defense being suspect and the cornerbacks being horrible," receiver Stedman Bailey said.
Bailey plays outside receiver for the Mountaineers and added eight receptions, 75 yards and three touchdowns to his season totals - and his 13 touchdowns this season are already a school record. He opposes Miller when WVU plays first-team offense against first-team defense and knows Miller can be a menace in man coverage when he can use his long arms.
Physically, the 5 foot, 11 inch, 190-pound Miller is quite acceptable.
"The whole thing about him is his confidence," Bailey said. "People constantly bash him about how bad he plays, but Pat can be a very good corner."
And at times there are exceptions.
"Sometimes when he gets in a game, he thinks too much," Bailey said.
Texas challenged WVU's thinking with some plays and attacked a cornerback's third of the field with some success. There was a pass to a running back on the first drive up the right side of the field that worked for 46 yards, but never appeared again.
There were wheel routes up the right side of the field on back-to-back plays that worked for a combined 50 yards. WVU later took that from Texas.
"He did his job," said linebacker Isaiah Bruce, who had 10 tackles. "That's what you've got to do. We always say, 'Do your job. Just play one eleventh of the defense. Play your part. Don't try to do anybody's job but your job.' Pat did his job."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com/wvu. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.