MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Two weeks ago, Jeff Casteel had a defense that was allowing more than 25 points per game and was barely inside the national top 40 in yards allowed per game.
Two wins and two weeks later, the West Virginia defensive coordinator is working with a team allowing four fewer points per game and ranked No. 18 in total defense.
The 13th-ranked Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) are in far more familiar territory now. Young players are fitting in and Casteel is asking more of them and seeing more rewards. Turnovers and sacks are coming with more frequency. A third opponent was just kept from scoring an offensive touchdown.
It has to be a terrible time for an open week. WVU next plays at Syracuse (4-2, 0-1) at 8 p.m. Oct. 21 on ESPN.
"To be honest with you, I think the break probably is good for us right now," Casteel said. "We'll try to get back into some fundamentals with these guys. They have six games under their belts and they know some things need to get better because of what we've seen on film."
The Mountaineers finished the 2010 season ranked No. 3 in total defense, No. 2 in rushing defense, No. 11 in passing defense and No. 3 in scoring defense, which Casteel values above all else.
Yet that team had nose guard Chris Neild, defensive tackle Scooter Berry, linebackers J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard, cornerback Brandon Hogan and safeties Robert Sands and Sidney Glover, all who went on to play for NFL teams either in the preseason or the regular season.
Casteel ushered in seven new starters. To do that, he had to give backups and role players into greater responsibility and then fill those holes on the second level with even more new faces.
WVU had a rough second half against Maryland and then two tough halves against No. 1 LSU a week later, but has allowed only one touchdown and four field goals the past two games. The Mountaineers played the past two games without starting linebacker Doug Rigg and the second with defensive end Bruce Irvin not in the starting lineup.
Casteel was about as complimentary as his almost unappeasable approach normally allows after controlling Saturday's second half against Connecticut.
"I thought we got a little bit better as the game went on and I actually saw some kids play a little better," he said. "They did some good things and were a little bit more aggressive, which was good to see. That's what we're asking them to do and we're starting to see improvement in some things."
Two weeks ago, Casteel said he couldn't ask his defense to be as assertive and exotic as he did last year. He reasoned that could have explained why WVU had just one sack and three turnovers in four games.