WVU football: Improved defense not enough
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's defense, riddled and ridiculed throughout the 2012 season, held Oklahoma's offense to just 16 points in Saturday's loss to the Sooners.
It was OU's lowest point total in a win in 46 years and a performance that saw WVU at least continue the form it showed while shutting out William & Mary in the second half of the season-opener.
This is not to say WVU was good or good enough, though.
"The way I view that and the way I portray that to our defensive guys is, 'You guys did a great job, your effort was tremendous, you got four turnovers, but you were the second best defense on the field,'" Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
"I think that resonated with them. If you want to be a dominating defense - and we were not on Saturday - we would've had to hold them to six points. It's all about winning the game."
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DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Keith Patterson has a board that charts WVU's performance in every game in 10 critical categories. He wants his Mountaineers to allow no explosive plays, fewer than 200 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and 3.5 yards per play and no more than 13 points.
The defense also has to get a stop on at least 70 percent of the third downs, force at least three turnovers, set up or score a touchdown with a turnovers, force at least six three-and-outs and record at least nine tackles for a loss.
WVU succeeded in only four against the Sooners (passing yards, third down stops, turnovers, tackles for a loss). A fifth would have been met, but a pair of three-and-outs were erased by special teams mistakes that ultimately facilitated scoring drives and 10 points for OU. Safety Darwin Cook believes he missed out on a sixth. He was adamant after the game and again Tuesday he would have scored had he not dropped an interception in the second quarter.
Consequently, the Mountaineers missed on the 11th and ultimate goal - they didn't win.
"I'm happy with their progress; I've said that since camp," Holgorsen said. "I think they are further along with their progress than any time since I've been here. I think Keith is doing a great job, but he will be the first person to tell you that we are far from where we can be defensively."
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THROUGH TWO games, WVU has substituted more freely along the offensive line than in Holgorsen's first two seasons. As unusual as that may be, consider Holgorsen's review of the group.
"I'm happy with it," he said, realizing the words as they came from his mouth. "I shouldn't have said that, but I am happy with it."
First-year offensive line coach Ron Crook has used backup guard Pat Eger as much as he has any starter in two games, and Eger played both guard positions and center against the Sooners.
He'll start at center in Saturday's noon home game against Georgia State at Mountaineer Field (Root Sports), but he'll also slide over to relieve Marquise Lucas at left guard and Mark Glowinski at right guard. Tyler Orlosky will play center when Eger moves.
Nick Kindler will also continue to relieve left tackle Quinton Spain and right tackle Curtis Feigt.
"I think it's worked very well," Crook said. "I believe there are outside guys and inside guys and I think it's harder to go from center to tackle than it is to go center to guard - you're doing kind of the same things inside. Going from right tackle to left tackle, you're in a different stance, but pretty much everything else is the same.
"I think it's worked because (Kindler and Eger, both seniors) are older. They've played a lot of football. They've worked with different guys and they've worked together enough that they know what to do."
Ideally, Crook would play all seven of his linemen about the same, saying that in an 80-play game, he'd like to let a starter play 55 snaps and rest for 25, which means a backup like Kindler could play 50 snaps and that everyone can get rest and be spry at different parts of the game.
He made changes between series in the season-opener against William & Mary, but made chances within series against Oklahoma. He said it was part necessity and part strategy.
"We got into six-, seven-play drives and I shot them in there in the middle of the drive to keep guys fresh," he said. "I think that's a little different than most places, but it was a lot more humid there than what we're used to. I usually don't do it in the middle of the series, but I felt like that added to their confusion some, too."
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HOLGORSEN PROVIDED a partial solution to running back Dreamius Smith's mysterious numbers against Oklahoma. The junior college transfer had a memorable 75-yard touchdown, but finished with three carries for 77 yards.
Yet Holgorsen said Smith's blocking could have been better. Smith was penalized for a chop block on the game's first series, had trouble in space blocking for a run or and a pass play and also let a defender get by who sacked quarterback Paul Millard in the second quarter to force a turnover.
"If Dreamius gets out there and he whiffs three times like he did, he's coming out of the game, and he knows that," Holgorsen said. "His one run was spectacular, but you can't turn around and miss a block and get the quarterback hit and have a turnover. You have to do the little things, and blocking is more important than running people over."
Running backs coach JaJuan Seider said Smith cramped up in the third quarter. He and Holgorsen both said Smith is playing well and that his running and blocking are improving and will continue to progress the more he plays.
Smith is aware of the challenge.
"I missed a kick block that caused a turnover, and I take all the responsibility for that," he said. "Blocking is an area I am working to improve on. Once my blocking improves, the more carries I can get, it sounds like. It is a strong part of the game. Everyone needs to be able to block well and that is a part I am working on day in and day out in practice and during individual workouts."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.