West Virginia's defense defined by personnel

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The numbers can be written and rewritten.

The stats are fact and go toward validating all this West Virginia defense, one of the best in the nation, has accomplished through nine games as the Mountaineers (6-3, 2-2 Big East) prepare to face Louisville (5-5, 2-3) on the road at noon today.

But, forget the "what" for a moment and focus on the "why."

Why is West Virginia No. 3 in the country in scoring defense, fourth in sacks and total defense and the leader in the Big East Conference in virtually every defensive category that matters?

Why is this unit the last one in Division I-A standing that has yet to yield more than 21 points to any opponent this season?

Some coaches around the conference are quick to put their finger on it -- it is a mixture of the unusual 3-3-5 alignment and a depth of talent in the Mountaineers' starting 11.


Game: West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) vs. Louisville (5-5, 2-3), noon today, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.; West Virginia favored by 4 1/2.

TV, radio, Internet: WTAE; WBGG-AM (970); MSNSportsNet.com.

West Virginia: Leads the series, 9-2, including a 17-9 win in Morgantown last season. ... The defense has held eight of nine opponents to less than 300 yards. ... DE Bruce Irvin is third in the Big East, 13th in the country in sacks(8). ... DB Keith Tandy is tied for Big East lead in interceptions and seventh nationally (5).

Louisville: Coming off a 24-21 overtime loss against South Florida and is 3-3 at home this season. ... Has allowed 241.2 yards per game over past four games. ... RB Bilal Powell is averaging 134.1 yards rushing per game. ... Has lost its five games by a combined 42 points.

Of note: The Mountaineers have at least a 5-2 record in the Big East every season since 2002 and must win out to keep that streak alive.

"First and foremost, they have very talented defenders," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, whose team beat West Virginia this season despite scoring just 16 points in an overtime game. "Those guys can really run and they are physical. ... It is one of those schemes you don't see week-in and week-out.

"It is like running the wishbone or running the option and doing those sorts of things. They do a great job of coaching it, but the players they have do a great job and are very talented."

In order to run the 3-3-5 a defense needs to first have unselfish players up front, guys who might not accumulate a large amount of tackles, but will take on blockers and control the running lanes, allowing time for the players behind them -- on run plays -- to swoop in and make tackles.

For now, West Virginia has those guys in senior linemen Chris Neild and Scooter Berry and junior Julian Miller. Perhaps that has been most pivotal this season; that the three-man front has, going into today's Louisville game, a combined 96 starts.

Greg Schiano, Rutgers' head coach, is the former defensive coordinator at the University of Miami and served on the defensive staff with the Chicago Bears and at Penn State. He understands the first phase to being successful is finding the right players for this intricate system.

"You need to recruit for that defense if you are going to play that," Schiano said. "In a 4-3, single gap control defense, we can get away with smaller, quicker lineman. With [West Virginia], they need to have bigger guys up front who can latch on to offensive linemen."

There is also this: Perhaps the person who knows the 3-3-5 system better than anyone in America resides in Morgantown -- West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

"It has been very effective for Jeff," Schiano said. "He is the best at it and they have been very good for a long time. Sustained success is the greatest measure and he's done a very good job."

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


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?