WVC football: Unheralded UC defense flexing its muscles
Overlooked in the steady progression of Coach Pat Kirkland's University of Charleston football program has been its defense.
In winning seven of its eight contests this season and nine of its last 10 dating to Nov. 5, 2011, the Golden Eagles have surrendered more than 20 points just twice.
The pinnacle of the improvement came last week in their West Virginia Conference showdown at West Liberty when the Hilltoppers gained eight yards on their first possession and 15 on their second.
When the game concluded, West Liberty had 176 total yards and averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
The Golden Eagles (7-1, 4-1 WVC), ranked No. 25 in the AFCA NCAA Division II rankings, visit Glenville State (4-4, 4-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Pioneers will present UC with a balanced attack, led by running back Rahmann Lee (136 carries, 888 yards, eight touchdowns) and quarterback Darold Hughes (106-of-183, 1,115 yards, 11 touchdowns).
UC will counter with an opportunistic defense that is ranked eighth in NCAA Division II, and a pass defense ranked 16th.
Through eight games in 2012, UC is tied with Glenville at a half-game behind Shepherd in the WVC standings. Through eight games in 2011, the Golden Eagles UC was 2-6 and 2-3 in conference games.
Sophomore defensive back Isaiah Gibson acknowledges a huge difference in the defense.
"We took it all the way back to square one," said Gibson, a native of Hampton, Va. "Starting in the spring. From drills to practice. They told us, don't even go fast, just worry about technique. I credit it to technique. We knew that's what it was last year."
The Golden Eagles finished last season with four consecutive victories and started 2012 with three more. Their only loss could be credited to Shepherd's defense, which returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown just before halftime to cut a 10-point deficit to three points, shifting the momentum and resulting in a 14-10 defeat to the Rams.
That's not to say the defense has been perfect. The Golden Eagles are last in red zone defense, giving up 18 scores in 21 opponent chances inside the 20. Comparatively, Shepherd has surrendered only seven scores in 18 opponent chances.
The Golden Eagles are sixth in the Super Region One rankings. The top six teams in each region earn a berth in the playoffs.
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NATE MONTANA and W.Va. Wesleyan (2-6, 1-4 WVC) visits Institute for a battle with West Virginia State (2-6, 1-4).
The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Joe Montana has completed 51.1 percent of his passes (141-of-276) for 1,580 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has completed at least 20 passes to five receivers, led by Lavaughn Hughes (41-566-4) and Chase Blackwell (41-447-5).
The Yellow Jackets have lost three consecutive games, failing to score more than 20 points since a 21-13 victory over Seton Hill on Sept. 29.
Senior quarterback Ricky Phillips has thrown for 1,565 yards and 10 touchdowns, while senior running back Aubura Taylor has run for 475 yards and four scores.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.