Mountaineers cornerbacks minimized impact of Pitt's star receiver

After The Brawl / West Virginia

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Some of it had to do with the unforgiving wind that lashed Heinz Field.

Some of it had to do with the loose footing on the wobbly turf.

But the majority of it, to be sure, had to do with the play of West Virginia cornerbacks Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy.

During West Virginia's 35-10 victory against Pitt in Friday's Backyard Brawl, many Panthers fans were disappointed because there was never one big catch -- that one game-changing grab -- deep in Mountaineers territory by Pitt receiver Jon Baldwin.

Here's why: Hogan, a senior, and Tandy, a junior, tended to their responsibilities masterfully. Tandy had nine tackles and a pass breakup and Hogan had six tackles, a forced fumble, an interception and a pass breakup.

And something that can't be measured with a statistic: the two were, quite simply, all over Baldwin.

All game.

As West Virginia traveled north to play Pitt in the 103rd edition of this rivalry, Mountaineers defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel understood all the weaponry possessed by Pitt's offense. He knew about running backs Ray Graham and Dion Lewis and receiver Mike Shanahan, mentioning each of those dynamic players in the run-up to kickoff, but, he paid specific attention to Baldwin, the 6-foot-5 wideout who came into the game with 42 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns this season. On top of that, he had 11 100-yard receiving games, three this season.

"He changes a lot in terms of what you have to do," Casteel said. "He is a great player with great body control. He has a chance to catch every ball that is thrown in his area. Whether they are thrown perfectly, whether they are underthrown, off to the left, off to the right, he has the ability to get up in the air and hang in the air. That's a gift that few people have and he has it."

Baldwin finished with five catches for 76 yards against the Mountaineers. Those would be solid numbers for most receivers but 48 of those yards came on one catch, a big-gainer that came when the game had been, for the most part, settled with West Virginia ahead, 21-7, with about seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Hogan had coverage on the play, and it was the lone slip-up the corners made against Baldwin all game.

"It was very difficult to defend," Casteel said. "On the long one they got, Brandon [Hogan] was there and [Baldwin] just adjusted to the ball a little bit better than what Brandon did. And Baldwin made a great play."

That flash, when Baldwin went up and made the catch, was what Casteel and the nationally ranked West Virginia defense had feared could happen. It only materialized that one time.

"Controlling him and where he did not make the kind of plays like that, changed the game," Casteel said. "To keep him bottled up for the most part, that's a big part of this game."

Not just a big part of the game; it might have been the biggest part of the game.

Coaches say games are won or lost as a team. Butthe West Virginia cornerbacks who held Baldwin in check might have been more important than anyone else.


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


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