WVU football: Mountaineers find confidence on defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's defense looked almost nothing Saturday like it had in Big 12 play this season.
The Mountaineers changed actors and actions and spared no one on the field.
That would include defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, who signed off on three changes to the starting lineup, but also called the plays in the 39-38 double overtime loss to TCU from the coach's box above Mountaineer Field.
"I thought we needed to do something and I thought that was the best change," said Coach Dana Holgorsen, who said DeForest and co-coordinator Keith Patterson, who moved from the box to the sideline, maintain the same duties. "As an offensive play-caller, I've been on the field and I've been in the box, where it's just a little more calm. I thought Joe did a good job calling it."
The Mountaineers, who haven't lost four in a row since 2001, look to avoid the fate in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. ABC game at Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2).
WVU (5-3, 2-3) goes to Boone Pickens Stadium feeling suddenly confident on defense.
Maligned and ridiculed on a level even with its deficiencies the previous four games, those players roared out of an off week and had arguably their best performance of the season. The Mountaineers forced three turnovers that led to 10 points for the offense.
One interception on the goal line kept the Horned Frogs (6-3, 3-3) from scoring.
WVU sacked TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin three times and hit and hurried him on several other occasions. They allowed three third-down conversions on the game's first touchdown drive, but then earned stops on the next eight.
They forced five punts in the first half - or as many as the previous four games - and nine in the game, with seven coming after a three-and-out.
In so many ways, DeForest and his defense had a good night in new digs.
"I loved it," said DeForest, who doubles as the safeties coach. "I thought it was calm. It's so surreal up there. In 23 years coaching, I've never been in the box before. I don't think I'll ever leave. I could see what was going on in the secondary, which is my most important thing, and I could see the big picture. I was calm and could make calls. I think that has a lot to do with how we played."
The elevated view gave DeForest a view of the full field. At field level, he gets a look at a fraction of the scene. He can't see the opposite side of the field as well and can't tell how one part of the play affects the rest of it quite as easily as he can above the field.
Mostly, though, he said he enjoyed quiet of the box, where it was easier to digest a play's result or the game's situation and make the proper play call.
"It was a lot easier seeing everything and knowing the weaknesses and making corrections in the box that normally you can't on the field, because you can't see the far-side perimeter and things like that," he said.
The seat in the box also offered a new look at an old problem. The defense played markedly better for the game's first 58 minutes before a critical collapse.
WVU punted with a 31-24 lead and put TCU at its 15-yard line with 2:07 remaining. On first down, linebacker Josh Francis sacked Boykin.
The Mountaineers were moments from avoiding their first three-game losing streak since 2004.
The WVU defense allowed just 288 yards and 17 points to that point - and one touchdown drive needed just 31 yards after a Geno Smith interception.
On second down, Boykin escaped pressure in the end zone, rolled left and saw receiver Josh Boyce alone behind the defense. It turned into a game-tying 94-yard touchdown pass - the longest offensive play by an opponent in Mountaineer Field history.
"We had the game won," DeForest said. "All we had to do was stay in coverage."
The busted play involved cornerback Ickey Banks - who has been back and forth between cornerback and safety - and safety Cecil Level - who was playing cornerback solely on the scout team before learning safety during the open week. They both started against TCU.
Banks was in place of freshman Nana Kyeremeh, who replaced injured Brodrick Jenkins the last game. Level started in place of Darwin Cook, who had played all 33 games in his career and started the past 20, but didn't play against TCU.
"Not playing very well," Holgorsen said.
Level confessed to a miscommunication with Banks that saw Banks let Boyce pass into the safety's area even though Level moved forward on the play. The coverage broke down when Boykin moved left.
"I take the blame for that," Level said. "I should have went over and at least touched him on the shoulder and let him know what to do and that he had (Boyce)."
In overtime, the defense allowed a 2-yard run on first down and then stopped a pass play for 3 yards on third down to set up a 37-yard field goal that missed to the left. That gave the offense one more chance to control the game.
After Level forced a fumble to set up WVU's field goal and 24-14 lead in the third quarter, WVU had a punt snap fumbled and returned for a touchdown, missed a field goal and punted four straight times. Once TCU missed its field goal in overtime, WVU picked up 5 yards on first down and then 1 yard on third-and-5. Tyler Bitancurt's 37-yard field goal was blocked - his third miss of the game.
"If you look at the big picture, we got better defensively and made plays when we needed to," DeForest said. "We pressured when we needed to. Overall, you still can't be happy with what happened, but at the end we've got to learn from it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.