Defense lives up to teammate's bold assertion

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Some raised an eyebrow.

Some looked at him funny.

One at the media gathering chuckled a tiny bit.

That was on Oct. 15 when Jock Sanders, the garrulous West Virginia senior wide receiver, made a bold declaration about the Mountaineers' defense, the guys he faces every day in practice.

"If we score 20 or 21 points, I already know that's a victory in the book," Sanders said vehemently.

Wouldn't you know it, Sanders knew what he was talking about that day, and he still knows what he's talking about; that is, if the offense lives up to its end of it during a game.

Through nine games -- even though only six have been wins -- the Mountaineers' defense has yielded 13.3 points per game. Going into Saturday's 37-10 victory against Cincinnati, West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) was third in the nation in points yielded per game and didn't hurt its standing with its performance against the Bearcats.

Also, consider this measurement, which backs up that statement made by Sanders a month ago: West Virginia is the only Division I-A team that has yet to yield more than 21 points to any opponent this season. Against Marshall, on the road Sept. 2, the Mountaineers gave up 21 points in a 24-21 overtime win. The next largest output against West Virginia was by LSU on Sept. 25 when the Tigers won, 20-14, in Baton Rouge.

Consider: LSU scored its two touchdowns on a big special teams play (a 60-yard punt return) and after being handed a short field (a 7-yard drive) after a West Virginia fumble. Other than that, West Virginia gave up two field goals to a LSU team that scored more against the likes of Florida (33), Alabama (24) and Mississippi State (29), than they did the Mountaineers.

Since then, the 19 points Syracuse scored Oct. 23 have been the most the Mountaineers' stingy defense has given up.

After the Cincinnati win, he was reminded of what he had said a month ago about the defense.

"I told you," Sanders said. "You thought I was lying when I said that. But I know our defense because I bonded with our team and I know all those seniors and all those guys who are on the defense. I also have to go against those guys every day.

"So, how can I not know that? I know those are a great bunch of guys over there; I know what they can do."

Why has this West Virginia defense been so good this season? And why can they be considered -- statistics back this up -- among the finest to play in the long football history of Morgantown?

Perhaps Butch Jones, the Cincinnati coach, found out firsthand because of a dozen plays on Saturday. His team was 0 for 12 on third-down attempts, illustrating the strength of this defense all season: When big plays have to be made, they make them.

"We could not possess the ball," Jones said, pointing to the fundamental principal of offense. "It is all about third down and possessing the ball on third down, and we weren't able to do that."


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


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