West Virginia: Defense looks as good as expected

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- No question, it was just one game against a Division I-AA opponent.

But the early returns after No. 25 West Virginia put together a 31-0 victory against Coastal Carolina and moving forward to the game Friday at in-state rival Marshall suggest the Mountaineers' defense has a chance to be very good.

This group of Mountaineers tacklers, if you listen to the coaching staff and talk to the players, shapes up as one of the finest to play in Morgantown in a long time.

And that is not because it put up a zero against a Division I-AA team that went 5-6 last season. No, the talk about this defense being something exceptional has been there through the spring and preseason camp.

Friday

• Game: West Virginia at Marshall, 7 p.m.

• TV: ESPN.

It has been far from a secret, especially since the time, in that Gator Bowl at the tail end of last season, safety Robert Sands was walloping Seminole players from sideline to sideline and hammering running backs in the backfield.

That is why there was so much anticipation for the Coastal Carolina game (there will be more for this ESPN game against Marshall) -- to see what players such as Sands and Brandon Hogan in the back and nose tackle Chris Neild in the front can do.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart generally is one to knock aside praise. He is more apt to come out and say everyone needs to get better, no matter how well they performed.

Stewart was an interesting study after the Mountaineers allowed just 186 yards against Coastal Carolina and held it to 2 of 14 on third down. He did not shy away from praising his defense, did not brush off questions about how good they could be or, perhaps, how good they are.

"I didn't think it was 200 yards," Stewart said, looking down at his stat sheet after the game. "And I am really pleased about that in today's major college football."

The questions continued about the defense.

About how an interception by Hogan that squeezed the life out of Coastal Carolina; about how Sands propels himself into ball-carriers; about how this team, as it advances through the non-conference season for the next month, will be measured as much by what they do when they do not have the ball as what they do.

"There were collisions; there wasn't just contact," Stewart said. "I have asked these players to do that, I have asked them to buy in. They played hard all camp and they have been flying around. ... but, when you can play that hard and fast, and have only three penalties, I have to be pleased with that.

"I really like the way, not only our defense played, but how fast we played. You saw a new Mountaineers defense out there on the field."

And this new Mountaineers defense might be the best one in a long time.




NOTES -- Starting tight end Tyler Urban, a junior from Norwin High School, sustained a knee injury in the win Saturday and was to have an MRI Sunday. His status should be known later today or Tuesday. ... The kicking game has now been solidified as Stewart indicated Sunday that three players will undertake the three facets of the kicking game: Gregg Pugnetti will serve as the punter, Corey Smith will kick off and Tyler Bitancurt will kick field goals.


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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