MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel looked like a pretty happy man after West Virginia’s 17-10 victory over Louisville Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium – as he should be. His defense put forth another dominating performance.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys,” said Casteel after the game. “Our seniors have done an outstanding job, really since spring practice of getting us to this point and I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Not to confuse Louisville with Oregon or Boise State, but the Cardinals have put up points on some people this year, including 28 two weeks ago against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome with backup quarterback Justin Burke under center.
West Virginia may have dodged a bullet with Bilal Powell under the weather, but it was Jeremy Wright who ran for 98 yards and scored two touchdowns against Syracuse, and it was Victor Anderson who rushed for more than 1,000 yards two years ago as a freshman. And the guy who did the most damage on the ground against West Virginia last year in a game very similar to this one was Darius Ashley. He’s now playing cornerback for the Cardinals.
“The guy who ran for 170 yards on us last year is now playing corner, so they’ve got some depth at running back,” said Casteel. “My hat is off to our guys, and our defensive coaches did a great job preparing the kids this week.”
West Virginia completely took away Louisville’s running game (punter Chris Philpott was the team’s leading rusher with 21 yards) that was averaging 192.3 yards per contest. It's pretty tough running play action passes when you can’t run the football.
“For our guys to take away the run game the way they did is pretty amazing,” said Casteel, whose defense has now held opposing teams below 300 total yards in nine of 10 games this season.
Even when Louisville came out in some unfamiliar formations to start the game, hitting tight end Cameron Graham with a couple of passes down field, West Virginia was able to adjust quickly.
“They formation you to death and our kids really had to do a super job of getting ready for that,” Casteel said. “They did some two-back things that they hadn’t done but our kids really did a good job of recognizing it and realizing what was going on with it.”
Late in the fourth quarter, safety Sidney Glover was able to read Burke’s pass intended for Graham down the seam and tipped the ball to Keith Tandy, who made his Big East-leading sixth interception of the season. Game over.
- West Virginia came into today’s game first in the country in third down defense allowing its opponents a conversion rate of 22 percent. The Mountaineers will likely stay atop the rankings in that category after Louisville could convert on only 2 of its 13 third-down tries. Teams are just 2 of 25 on third down against West Virginia the last two games.
- The Mountaineers are now giving up an average of 245.1 yards and 12.9 points per game.
- Coach Bill Stewart said he felt pretty good at halftime when his team took a 14-10 lead into the locker room. That’s because he knew Louisville has done most of its damage in the second quarter of football games this season.
“They have scored 122 points in the second quarter this year. How many did they get in the second quarter? Seven, and who gave it to them? Our offense,” said Stewart. “I walked out and told our defense, ‘You’re fine, stay with the plan and just keep doing what you’re doing. When you blitz get home and if you can’t get home get your hand up.’ That doggone guy was such a tall quarterback today we just couldn’t get our hands on the ball.”
- Stewart said he was not tempted to go to the power game earlier in the second half when West Virginia’s regular offense was struggling to move the sticks.
“I wanted to save it for our four-minute offense and if they scored we had to have a two-minute offense and I didn’t want to send the message to the spread guys that we were done in case we had to use the two-minute offense,” Stewart explained. “I thought that was the right thing to do.”
- Stewart said the sun and swirling wind inside the stadium was bothering Brandon Hogan on punts today. Hogan failed to catch punts that hit the ground that ended up giving Louisville at least 50 yards in field extra field position.
- Stewart said West Virginia introduced a new formation with fullback Ryan Clarked lined up as a wing back to try and counter some of Louisville’s zone blitz packages.
“The first time we called it he lined up wrong,” Stewart said. “They zone blitzed, zone blitzed, zone blitzed – just like we zone blitz. If we can kick out one side and block one side and the backside tackle cuts if off then Noel is on the safety. We just couldn’t get him on the safety. The one time he was on the safety Eric Jobe tackled him. Honest to god I wanted to cry.”
- Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen was asked after the game to assess his unit’s performance against the blitz.
“You’ve got to get the ball going north, whether you’re running belly or inside zone … and you’ve got to be able to protect and flip it because you are numerical challenged no matter what set you’re in,” Mullen said. “Of course the stats are ugly as a dog (261 total yards) but we did hit some pretty big third down throws and some other throws in those man coverage situations that really helped.”
Mullen thought the real problem was not being able to create some more running space when Louisville frequently brought pressure.
“I have to go back and look at the film and see why we couldn’t run the ball a little better against those pressures,” he said. “I felt really good about some of the schemes we had going into it. From a throw standpoint we’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback and I think we had a few drops out there today and that kind of slaps you in the face when you go back and look at the stat sheet.”
- Mullen on Geno Smith’s blindside hit that resulted in a fumble and Louisville’s only touchdown of the game … “We tried to help (right tackle Jeff) Braun a little bit in the protection scheme and left Donnie on that island on that play and I’d call it again,” he said. “I love Donnie Barclay.”
- An unrecognized factor in West Virginia’s terrific defensive performance this year has been Jeff Mullen's offensive play calling. When West Virginia gets leads it frequently takes the air out of the ball and eats clock - as it did today after getting a touchdown advantage early in the third quarter. As a result, opposing teams are getting fewer plays.
Three years ago in 2007 when West Virginia was ranked 15th in the country in total offense, opponents were averaging 67 plays per game against the Mountaineers. This year through 10 games, teams are only averaging 59.8 plays per game. That’s a difference of nearly eight fewer plays per game and that’s a huge, huge advantage for Casteel’s Crew.
“It’s a team game,” explained Mullen.
Mario Alford: Autozone Liberty Bowl Preview
Gotham Classic Postgame Reaction
Coach Mike Carey
United Bank Playbook
Bob Huggins Media Conference: NC State