West Virginia's defense leading the way

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia senior receiver Jock Sanders thinks he has it all figured it.

He went so far as to quantify things.

Sanders' remarks were pointed in the aftermath of West Virginia's 20-6, Big East Conference-opening victory Thursday night at Mountaineer Field.

He was frustrated with the offensive effort, even as they moved to 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference.

But, because of the strength of West Virginia's defense -- which some think is the program's best in decades -- Sanders is of the belief it will not take much from the Mountaineers' offense to win games.

And he put a number on it -- just three touchdowns or so.

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

"I salute our defense. I play against those guys each and every day in practice and I already know what they are capable of doing. So, I knew what kind of game they were going to have [against South Florida]."

Against South Florida, West Virginia's defense was stifling.

South Florida rushed for 65 yards on 29 carries and threw for 137 yards on 22-for-33 passing. West Virginia's defense also had four sacks and intercepted South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels three times.

A simple look at the scoreboard, however, provided the truest measure of what Sanders thought his counterparts on defense did.

"Six points?" Sanders said. "[South Florida], those boys usually give us a fight. But, you know our defense stepped up out there and won for us. Basically, it was a defensive game, and our defense showed up."

That they did, paced by cornerback Keith Tandy, who had 10 tackles and an interception, and five other players who had at least five tackles. Up front, as he has all season, nose tackle Chris Neild disrupted everything South Florida wanted to do and linebacker Anthony Leonard continued to play extremely well.

It is not a stretch -- and many of the statistics back up such a claim-- to call this West Virginia defense the finest in the Big East.

So, what of this notion that all the offense needs to do is score three touchdowns or so and a win is a sure thing?

West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen is not ready to jump on board with Sanders just yet.

"I go into every game thinking we can score 100 points," Mullen said. "And if our kids [on offense] execute, I think we will."

Much has been made about style points with this team, about how coach Bill Stewart shuns the concept that such a thing even exists.

To Mullen, the prime focus is winning, but he also knows his unit's efforts are greatly aided by what the West Virginia defensive does.

"The key is winning, we all know that," Mullen said.

"The thing we don't want to do is rely on one-third of the ball; offense, defense or kicking game and clearly we do not. But, when you are in a game and you sense [the flow of a game], having the ability to grind a little [on offense], I think, is smart.

"Clearly, that is not the mentality, that is not what we are trying to do, but we have a tremendous amount of respect for what those [defensive] guys do."

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


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