Stopping the run No. 1 job for WVU

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The West Virginia defense has improved by the week this season, slowly climbing to No. 16 in total defense in the country.

Still, it has shown occasional vulnerability to the run, something the Mountaineers hope to stamp out Friday night against Syracuse.

The Orange relies heavily on explosive running back Antwon Bailey, who is on his way to a 1,000-yard season.

"We've worked all week to prepare to play the run," said senior defensive tackle Julian Miller. "They ran the ball very well last year. They have a very good running back and a pretty nice offensive line. You watch film from last year and this year and you notice that.

"You have to come into this game being able to prepare to stop the run and try and get them into passing situations."

With seven new starters West Virginia has struggled against the run at times in every game this season.

The Mountaineers pass defense is ranked No. 17 nationally (181.33 yards per game), but West Virginia is No. 36 against the run, giving up an average of 119.83 yards per game.

The team yielded 188 rushing yards to Maryland and three touchdowns and another 186 yards to LSU.

The run defense showed its most improvement against Connecticut Oct. 8, giving up just 82 rushing yards and holding the Huskies to 2.3 yards a carry.

"We're not very consistent stopping the run game," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "We just have to get better. There's a lot of things that go into playing good defensive football. We're getting better.

"We're not where we want to be. We need to be a sound defense against the run game to win football games."

How will that happen?

Getting tougher inside, said Miller.

"Our inside game. It's mostly us up front as a defensive line, as a unit, it all starts with us," said Miller.

"Especially with the run game. We have to play tougher between the tackles. We've got guys who can rush the passer, but we definitely need to become stronger against the run, especially this second half of the season."

Bailey, who has rushed for 553 yards and five touchdowns this season, is a threat between the tackles -- he uses his leverage to break tackles and grind out yards when he has to -- and outside.

"He's a guy who has a low center of gravity. He's a powerful kid, athletic. He's quick," said Casteel. "He's a tough kid to get under. He has the ability to drop his pads and unload on you. ... He has the ability to go the distance on you.

"He's a kid that runs in between the tackles, for three, four, six yards then takes one outside and puts it in the end zone on you."

Ultimately, said Miller, it comes down to preparation and execution.

"We've seen it on film and experienced it in the game last year," he said.

"We've got to get on these guys up front along the offensive line. We know the challenge we have. We have to go out there and execute."

Next

Game: No. 11 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East) at Syracuse (4-2, 0-1), Syracuse, N.Y.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

TV: ESPN.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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