MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Before you take any sort of rigid stance about No. 9 West Virginia's defense, be honest with yourself about one thing: Those Mountaineers weren't expected to be really good at the start of the season.
That's not a swipe at the defense or the coaches. It's reality. Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said he used 30 players in the 69-34 win against Marshall and 20 of them were new - either true or redshirt freshmen or first-time upper
classmen or even kids who maybe played a little before, but not like they were being asked to in the opener.
That's a lot to overcome, though everyone on that side of the ball believes things will get better. Things have to get better. Things better get better.
But if this season's Coal Bowl were stopped after three quarters like last year's, WVU would have felt much better about its defense.
Marshall gained 178 of its 545 yards and two of its four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Herd did it against fatigued starters and then fresher fresh faces during a game in which the defense faced a school-record 101 snaps.
"Some of the things were breakdowns and those were either bad technique or bad alignment, which is going to happen in the first game," DeForest said.
"But if you look at the first three quarters, I think we played pretty well. A lot of this now is correcting the mistakes and cleaning up some execution things - we missed a few blitzes that could have totally changed things."
What the Mountaineers did well is a shorter list, but there were positives. They turned the ball over twice, scoring once and setting up a short score on another, and produced three three-and-outs.
Marshall was a troubling 6-for-6 in the red zone, but WVU was even reasonably tolerant of that. Two scores were field goals, which the Mountaineers will learn to appreciate in Big 12 play, while the four touchdowns were to be explained.
A blocked punt set one up and two were against WVU's mixed-bag personnel late in the game. Marshall did drive 98 yards on WVU in the second quarter - a concern because the drive featured three of Marshall's nine third-down conversions.
One in particular drove DeForest crazy.
On third-and-3, the first third-down of the drive, Marshall lined up five wide receivers and put quarterback Rakeem Cato in the shotgun. Cato gained 12 yards on a draw.
That was one of three times DeForest said he put his defense in a bad spot with a bad call.
"I can do better," he said.