Protecting the Middle


TONY'S TAKE
By for WVUsports.com
September 01, 2008 10:12 AM

Posted September 1, 2008 (10:13 am)

I attended a pig roast on Sunday. It was a wonderful event: a 110-pound pig stuffed with three whole chickens, 10 apples, half-a-dozen large onions, and enough garlic cloves to get a standing ovation from the audience at an Emeril Lagasse show. One of the boys who roasted the porker also happens to be a surgeon, who did a meticulous job of suturing up the hog’s belly so the chickens wouldn’t fall out over the 17 hours of rotating above the hot charcoal.

Whether it’s roasting a pig or playing football one constant remains true: your middle better be secure.

In Saturday’s season opener against Villanova, the middle of the Mountaineer defense wasn’t always secure and as a result the Wildcats were able to convert 57 percent of their third down attempts and possess the ball for 15 minutes more than the Mountaineers.

Was I surprised by those numbers?

No, not really.

Actually it was what I expected from a Mountaineer defense which technically only had two returning starters - Mortty Ivy and Scooter Berry - on the field for the opening snap against Villanova. The reality is that there is no way to gain experience quickly. Free safety newcomers like Eain Smith and Robert Sands simply need to play games. Sidney Glover, who was held out due to injury, would have benefited greatly by playing against Villanova.

The good news is that athletically there is enough talent available for WVU coaches to come up with a combination to shore up the middle. However, the biggest question is how long it will take for the newcomers to “GET IT?”

In my mind it will probably take a minimum of three games and maybe four before WVU coaches know what they really have. If this group learns quickly from their mistakes, coordinator Jeff Casteel will be able to open his bag of tricks that made WVU’s defense one of the nation’s best last season. However, if the learning and growth of the unit remains slow then Casteel and crew will be forced to stay in basic schemes or take high risk gambles to get opposing offenses off the field - which is what he was forced to do in the 2006 season.

Ryan Mundy showed up last year at free safety and turned the entire unit around. His presence secured the middle just like the sutures around the belly of that pigskin.

Is there a reason to worry?

No.

The Mountaineer defensive staff is a collection of excellent minds that will coach them up and find a way to get it done.

In the meantime, the offense and special teams look capable of picking up the slack while the defense matures. It’s the nature of college football.

As for the pig roast, the chickens never budged - the middle was secured, and the pork was out of this world.

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