On the surface, the 545 yards West Virginia allowed against Marshall in last weekend’s 69-34 victory was cause for concern.
Sure, giving up 545 yards to an offense that ranked 91st in the country last year is not awe inspiring. But how much can you really read into a game that was basically over at halftime?
Of course it’s a lot easier playing offense when you are trailing by 35 points - and a lot tougher to play defense when you are leading by that many.
Co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest will concede that much, but not much else.
“We’ve got to train our kids to have the mindset that it’s four quarters, regardless of what the score is,” he said.
Considering the way West Virginia has been playing offensively, the Mountaineer defense is likely to be on the field a lot this fall. DeForest knew that coming into the opener and that’s why the Mountaineers used so many players against the Herd.
“We’re trying to create depth and part of that was our fault for not getting off the field on third down,” DeForest said of the large number of plays his unit had to defend. “We played well on first and second down, but we’ve got to win more of the money downs.”
For the most part, DeForest said his players were where they were supposed to be, although there were a couple of those ‘what-was-he-doing?’ moments.
“I make them explain to me, ‘What were you doing there?’ I think the most important thing about coaching is not you telling them what they did wrong, but instead having them explain to you what they did and then you can figure out how they are thinking,” DeForest said. “If you can figure out how a kid is thinking you can change his thinking instead of just yelling at him and telling him he’s wrong.
“Find out why he did it. Maybe he was thinking right but was looking at the wrong key.”
From his perspective, co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson saw a lot of good against Marshall, particularly in the first half. It was in the second half when things got sloppy as West Virginia began to substitute more freely.
“It was 69-20 going into the fourth quarter, and one of those touchdowns came off a blocked punt,” Patterson said. “The only (big) plays they had were miss-fits on our part. What starts to happen when the game starts to progress, not only do you become physically tired, but you become mentally tired as well. You quit focusing and concentrating and it’s about getting lined up and making sure you’re looking at what you’re supposed to be looking at.”
The biggest concern both coaches had coming out of the opener was some suspect tackling, again, a lot of that coming in the second half when the outcome was already decided.
“You can’t emulate (tackling) in practice,” Patterson explained. “You’re trying to protect your teammates, especially in fall camp. Even though we tackle them in live situations, it’s almost like you have to play your way into becoming a great tackling team anymore. A lot of that has to do with the nature and style of play today. We’ll become a better tackling team.”
Today, success on defense is measured a lot differently than it was in the past, particularly when it comes to total yardage allowed. Today’s offenses and rule changes have likely changed that statistic forever.
“You measure success on defense differently than you used to,” DeForest said. “Ultimately, you want to win the game. You’d like to hold them to a certain amount of points, or less, but if they’re chucking the ball deep 20 times, the chances are they may catch one.
“We weren’t awful,” DeForest continued. “There is a lot to improve on and our kids saw it when they watched the tape and realized, ‘You know what, if I would have done this they wouldn’t have scored.”
In the end, though, the most important stat is the two big numbers on the scoreboard when the clock reads zero.
“It’s winning,” DeForest said. “Just have one more point than they do at the end of the game.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.