The LSU defense West Virginia faced last Saturday night is probably as good as any the Mountaineers have seen in the last 10-15 years - at least that’s my opinion, for whatever that’s worth. The Tigers likely have three or four NFL-ready players running around out there right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if as many as six or seven of them wind up playing in the league at some point in their careers.
LSU is big (all 11 defensive starters standing taller than 6 feet) and extremely fast. It says something when 6-foot-1-inch, 222-pound Patrick Peterson can comfortably run stride for stride with 5-foot-9-inch, 173-pound Tavon Austin.
Earlier this week I talked to someone who works at another SEC school who is convinced that LSU and Alabama have the two best defenses in the country this year. We’ll see.
At any rate, I thought it would be interesting to dig up the top five defenses West Virginia has faced since 1980. The list I came up with is based on total yards allowed per game:
1. Pitt, 1980, 205.5
2. Virginia Tech, 1980, 218.3
3. Miami, 1994, 220.9
4. Pitt, 1981, 224.8
5. North Carolina, 1996, 225.6
I don’t recall much about Tech’s defense in 1980 under Bill Dooley (Tech beat the Mountaineers 34-11 that year), but I do remember Miami’s and North Carolina’s Ds, which were both exceptional.
However, for my money I take the Pitt defense in ’80 with book ends Hugh Green and Rickey Jackson. That was probably the best defense I have ever seen. Getting a first down against those guys was a major accomplishment.
Speaking of Pitt, I had a nice telephone conversation with former West Virginia coach Frank Cignetti earlier this week and the subject of those great Panther defenses came up. For three straight years from 1979-81, Pitt had one of the best defenses in the country.
“You take Pitt from about ’77 when Johnny (Majors) left there and you look at their football team until ’81 and that might have been the best defenses ever in college football,” said Cignetti. “I’ve always felt that way. You look at the hall of famers. You’re talking about Rickey Jackson, Hugh Green, (Greg) Meisner – you’re talking about guys that played in the NFL. They had great, great talent.
“They were doing a great job of recruiting and they were doing it nationally,” Cignetti added. “They were into Florida and all over the south and east, into Ohio – great, talented football teams and they did a great job of coaching them.”
One other dominant defense that comes to mind was the Nebraska 11 in 1994. If you recall, the Mountaineers played the Cornhuskers up in the Meadowlands in the Kickoff Classic and West Virginia’s famed first-down cheer definitely took that afternoon off. In fact, WVU’s player of the game that afternoon was punter Todd Sauerbrun.
I wasn’t around to see these defenses, but a lot of the gray beards will say Syracuse’s 1959 defense that surrendered just 96.2 yards per game was the best defense West Virginia has ever faced. Syracuse won the national title that season.
The Orangemen, led by ex-Mountaineer Ben Schwartzwalder, were ranked among the national leaders in total defense in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Bobby Bowden, who used to call plays against those great Syracuse defenses as Jim Carlen’s offensive coordinator, once remarked that the Syracuse teams then were so big and tough that opposing teams didn’t leave western New York as much as they were “evacuated.”
The 1947 Penn State defense that allowed just 76.8 yards per game, the Virginia defense in 1944 that permitted only 96.9 yards per game, and the ’37 Pitt defense that gave up 92.8 yards per game were three other great defenses the Mountaineers faced through the year.
Here is one more quick note on LSU’s defensive performance last Saturday … West Virginia’s 177 total yards were just the fifth time since 2001 that the Mountaineers failed to produce at least 200 yards of total offense in a game. It is also the fewest yards since 2003 when WVU managed just 156 yards in a 34-7 loss at Maryland in 2003. Here are West Virginia’s five sub-200-yard games since 2001:
156, Maryland, 2003
172, Pitt, 2001
173, Virginia Tech, 2001
177, LSU, 2010
193, Pitt, 2007
Now of those other four defenses that held West Virginia below 200 total yards, can any of them even come close to comparing to this year’s LSU defense? Perhaps Tech’s D in 2001, but don’t forget that West Virginia was playing its No. 3 quarterback for a good portion of that game with Brad Lewis and Rasheed Marshall sidelined with injuries.
Can you name that quarterback? The answer is at the bottom.Thursday Tidbits With West Virginia taking on Bye this Saturday, here is what the rest of the Big East Conference is doing this weekend:
Vanderbilt at Connecticut
Tulane at Rutgers
Florida International at Pitt
Florida Atlantic at South Florida
Louisville at Arkansas State
Veteran women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown is still trying to teach her young team how to close out tight matches this year. The Mountaineers have either led or been tied in all 10 contests this year despite their 5-4-1 record. WVU, with only three seniors starters this season, is playing better of late, knocking off Big East rival Pitt, 3-0, in Morgantown earlier this week and beating seventh-ranked Virginia, 1-0, on Sunday, Sept. 19.
West Virginia has a pair of key Big East matches coming up this weekend at Cincinnati on Friday night and at Louisville on Sunday.
The Mountaineers are presently tied with Connecticut and Providence for third place in the Big East American Division standings with a 1-1-1 conference record.
Meanwhile, the men’s soccer team earlier this week cracked the national rankings for the first time since the ’09 season. West Virginia is now 5-2-1 after last night’s scoreless tie at Duquesne. The Mountaineers are one of four teams in the Big East Blue Division with three points heading into this weekend’s action. West Virginia takes on Georgetown Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C. The Hoyas are 2-4-1 and lost their conference opener, 2-0, to Cincinnati on Sept. 25.
I had a nice 20-minute conversation with fifth-year senior Joe Mazzulla earlier this week about the upcoming season. Look for a story on Joe in the coming days. By the way, Mazzulla says he has dropped 10 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. Plus, he said he will not be shooting any right-handed free throws this year.
Look for our first in-depth interview with WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck to be posted online tomorrow afternoon.
Veteran cross country coach Sean Cleary has decided to redshirt three of his top eight runners this year in order to make a run at the Big East title in 2011. Cleary announced earlier today that Kaylyn Christopher, Jessica O’Connell and Kate Harrison will sit out this season in order to have a full calendar year to compete in cross country and track in ‘11.
“We’re just a touch off of where I think we need to be and after a lot of thought and deliberation on this I just thought it would be better to do this so we can be back as strong as ever next fall,” explained Cleary.
With Christopher, O’Connell and Harrison out that means only two of the top eight runners from last year’s team that placed sixth at nationals are competing this fall. However, Cleary still believes he has a top 30 type team this year with senior Maria Dalzot, junior Ahna Lewis, and sophomores Sarah-Anne Brault and Kaitlyn Gillespie still in the lineup.
“We still have a nice little roster this year,” he said. “Hopefully we find a way to sneak back into the national meet.”
West Virginia has just two fifth-year seniors on this year’s roster in Dalzot and Jamie Cokely. Presently, the Mountaineers are one of six ranked Big East teams this week.
West Virginia has had three top 10 finishes in cross country and a top 10 finish in track during the last three calendar years.
This month the football team will be wearing pink ribbons on the back of its helmets to help raise awareness for breast cancer. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I was eating lunch with some of the guys the other day and one of them mentioned that it was time for me to once again bring up the Mayan calendar, which supposedly ends in 2012.
Who knows what happens after that?
In a related matter, retired Air Force officers are saying this week that UFOs have been spotted over nuclear installations in the past. Now I really don’t know a lot about UFOs or even if they exist, but why is it that whenever this stuff comes out in the news that it’s always someone who looks like this that is delivering it?
There is nothing quite like drinking bad milk in the afternoon. That really sets the tone for the rest of the day.
This week the Big East doesn’t have a single team in either of the Top 25 polls, but keep in mind that last year the league didn’t have a team in the Top 25 to begin the year and Cincinnati wound up finishing third in the BCS standings behind Texas and Alabama. West Virginia and Pitt also finished 16th and 17th in the final BCS rankings in '09.
Here are a couple of ESPN.com college basketball blog entries of interest, one by Diamond Leung …
And this one by Eamonn Brennan …
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant had this to say about forward Devin Ebanks, who is trying to make the defending world champion’s roster this year as a second-round pick with a partially guaranteed contract, “I think Ebanks has shown a lot of promise in terms of versatility in terms of the things he can do offensively.”
Also, former defensive player of the year Ron Artest commented on Ebanks’ defensive abilities, “Devin is a really good defender, people are going to be surprised when they see how he can play defense.”
Even veteran coach Phil Jackson has taken notice of Devin’s game so far, “Ebanks was very active, very active and it looks like he can be a pretty good defender too.”
With Da’Sean Butler in camp with the Miami Heat and Joe Alexander recently signing with the New Orleans Hornets, West Virginia could have three players in the league for the first time since 1971 when Jerry West (Lakers), Rod Thorn (Sonics) and Fritz Williams (Warriors) were still active.
Answer: Derek Jones.
Have a great weekend!