Great Mountaineer Defenses

By John Antonik for
December 31, 2010 02:49 PM
When you begin discussing the best defenses in school history the one that frequently gets mentioned is Steve Dunlap’s 1996 unit that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in total defense (217.5 yards per game), second against the run (61.5) and fourth in scoring allowing 12.4 points per game.

There were several pros on that defense, including consensus All-American linebacker Canute Curtis, cornerback Mike Logan, defensive tackle John Thornton and pass rushing specialist Gary Stills.

Keep in mind, too, that group faced a much tougher Big East Conference that included Boston College, Miami, Syracuse and Virginia Tech back then. The ’96 defense gave up just 24 points in its first five games including shutout wins over Pitt and Maryland, and 12th-ranked North Carolina could only manage 20 points in a 20-13 win over the Mountaineers in the 1997 Gator Bowl.

I believe this year’s defense will also enter the conversation.

Despite a sub-par performance in the Champs Sports Bowl, giving up a season-high 23 points and 378 yards to NC State, Jeff Casteel’s crew is going to finish among the nation’s top 10 in total defense (261.1), rushing defense (86.5) and scoring defense (13.5).

That’s some pretty tall grass.

Casteel’s 2007 defense finished seventh in total defense allowing 301.7 yards per game and eighth in scoring defense allowing 18.1 points per game. In 2008, Casteel’s defense ranked 11th in the country giving up just 17 points per game.

There have been other good defenses at WVU - Dennis Brown’s 1983 unit that ranked seventh in the country against the run and 10th in total defense, and Dick Inman’s 1967 defense that ranked ninth in total defense giving up just 203.6 yards per game are two that come to mind.

But for my money, the gold standard for defense at West Virginia was the 1954 unit that featured future pro standouts Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley and Joe Marconi. That group also had outstanding college players Beef Lamone, Chick Donaldson, Gene Lathey, Bobby Moss and Fred Wyant (players went both ways back then).

They finished the season ranked sixth in total defense giving up just 186.7 yards per game and seventh against the run allowing 110 yards per game. Even more impressively, that defense gave up just 74 points in nine games for an average of 8.2 points per game. The most points any team scored on the Mountaineers in ‘54 was 14 by Penn State, a game West Virginia won 19-14.

Now that’s great defense.

Friday Notes …

- For those of you into stats, here is what Dana Holgorsen’s offenses have done the past two years at Houston and Oklahoma State:

Houston (2009)
Northwestern State: 538 yards, 55 points
Oklahoma State: 512 yards, 45 points
Texas Tech: 579 yards, 29 points
Texas El-Paso: 664 yards, 41 points
Mississippi State: 553 yards, 31 points
Tulane: 516 yards, 44 points
Southern Methodist: 394 yards, 38 points
Southern Mississippi: 750 yards, 50 points
Tulsa: 695 yards, 46 points
Central Florida: 423 yards, 32 points
Memphis: 689 yards, 55 points
Rice: 684 yards, 73 points
East Carolina: 557 yards, 32 points
Air Force: 331 yards, 20 points

Oklahoma State (2010)
Washington State: 544 yards, 65 points
Troy: 522 yards, 41 points
Tulsa: 722 yards, 65 points
Texas A&M: 351 yards, 38 points
Louisiana-Lafayette: 492 yards, 54 points
Texas Tech: 581 yards, 34 points
Nebraska: 495 yards, 41 points
Kansas State: 511 yards, 24 points
Baylor: 725 yards, 55 points
Texas: 532 yards, 33 points
Kansas: 597 yards, 48 points
Oklahoma: 379 yards, 41 points
Arizona: 312 yards, 36 points

Add those figures up and the totals are absolutely staggering.

I know Mitch Vingle touched on this in yesterday’s column in the Charleston Gazette but it is worth repeating: Dana Holgorsen is the most coveted offensive coordinator in the country, according to Winthrop Intelligence, a North Carolina based consulting firm that provides athletic directors with decision making data. Here is a link to the story and the formula Winthrop Intelligence used to make this determination:

- West Virginia’s 159.7 yards per game rushing was the lowest output for the Mountaineers since 2000 when WVU averaged only 140.8 yards per game. It was also only the second time since 1996 that West Virginia failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher (2004 was the other year).

On the flip side, WVU averaged more than 200 yards per game through the air for the first time since 2000 when it averaged 207.5 yards per game that season.

- Even the best teams sometimes experience what the 13-0 West Virginia women went through on the road Thursday night at St. Bonaventure – abysmal shooting. The sixth-ranked Mountaineers didn’t score their first basket until seven minutes into the game (a Liz Repella 3) and had just six points with five minutes remaining in the first half.

“I don’t know what they did to that rim in the first half, but we couldn’t put it in,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey.

But West Virginia once again played outstanding defense and eventually the rim loosened up enough to allow the Mountaineers to escape Olean with a 62-53 victory. St. Bonaventure came into the game with a 9-4 record.

“I was on their butt at halftime and when I saw their heads down, with the first time we’ve been down at half, I said ‘are you kidding me?’ This is going to happen a lot in the BIG EAST, so we need to come out and execute better than we did in the first half,” said Carey. “I was proud of how they came out and did what I asked of them. We spaced out, we moved the ball and we didn’t stand around with the ball above our head.”

- Did you realize the Big East has seven women’s teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this week? UConn is No. 1, followed by No. 6 West Virginia, No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 17 St. John’s, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 21 DePaul and No. 24 Syracuse.

Mike Carey believes this is the deepest and most talented the conference has been in his nine years at West Virginia.

Here is how tough the Big East is this year. Stanford, which ended UConn’s 90-game winning streak on Thursday night, was absolutely run out of the gym at DePaul on Dec. 16, losing to the Blue Demons by 20 points.

Here are the league’s impressive non-conference performances to date:

Connecticut 65, No. 2 Baylor 64
Georgetown 53, No. 21 Maryland 45
West Virginia 62, No. 21 TCU 49
West Virginia 64, No. 19 Iowa State 53
Georgetown 69, No. 4 Tennessee 58
Louisville 78, No. 8 Kentucky 52
Syracuse 75, No. 6 Ohio State 66
Marquette 63, No. 23 Green Bay 60
Depaul 91, No. 3 Stanford 71
Connecticut 81, No. 11 Ohio State 50
Louisville 65, No. 21 Nebraska 51
Connecticut 93, No. 22 Florida State 62

On the men’s side, the Big East has seven teams ranked this week including five in the top 10. There will be some movement, however, as No. 4 Connecticut, No. 9 Georgetown and No. 22 Louisville lost games this week.

Notre Dame, ranked 15th this week, has to be considered somewhat of a surprise with its 12-1 record that includes a recent 69-55 victory over ninth-ranked Georgetown. The Irish have games coming up against fourth-ranked Syracuse on New Year’s Day and against Connecticut on Jan. 4.

- West Virginia doesn’t have much time to get its act together after dropping its Big East opener to St. John’s 81-71 Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum. The Mountaineers will be playing a 10 a.m. game at Marquette on New Year’s Day (the game will tip at 11 on the East Coast).

If you recall, West Virginia endured a 75-53 loss to the Golden Eagles back in 2009 that had WVU coach Bob Huggins steaming about the way the game ended because Marquette chose to keep scoring when the outcome was already decided. That 22-point loss was one of only three Huggins has had at West Virginia of more than 20 points in conference play. The other two were against Cincinnati at home and at Villanova – both in 2008.

Marquette has lost four times this year but all four losses were to quality teams: Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt. The Mountaineers are going to have to come up with a way to stop dribble drives and easy baskets against Marquette – St. John’s outscored West Virginia 40-6 in the paint on Wednesday night.

I would be willing to bet that has never happened in the 1,000-plus games of Bob Huggins’ coaching career.

  Joe Alexander

- I’m sure Joe Alexander would much rather be playing in the NBA, but he is getting sorely needed playing experience in the NBA D-League where he’s starting to really perform well for the Texas Legends (affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks). In his most recent game against Rio Grande Valley on Dec. 27, Alexander scored a season-high 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 112-108 win. Joe is averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game since his first game on Nov. 26.

Devin Ebanks is also playing in the D-League for the Bakersfield Jam, scoring 4 points and grabbing five rebounds in 22 minutes of action against New Mexico on Dec. 28.

- Former West Virginia catcher David Carpenter is currently listed on the Houston Astros 40-man roster. Carpenter, now a reliever, was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for third baseman Pedro Feliz on Aug. 19. Carpenter spent most of 2010 in the Florida State League were he posted a 5-3 record with 20 saves and a 2.36 earned run average in 49 appearances.

- Ex-Mountaineer Dustin Nippert was the only arbitration-eligible pitcher not to be tendered a contract by the Texas Rangers, thus making him a free agent. Nippert was a long reliever and spot starter for the Rangers in 2010, going 4-5 with a 4.29 earned run average in 38 appearances.
He owns a 14-16 record in six professional seasons with the Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

- Each year I see the list of senior candidates for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and it always amazes me that Chuck Howley keeps getting passed over. This year’s senior nominees are Washington Redskins linebacker Chris Hamburger and Los Angeles Rams defensive back Les Richter.

Howley went to six Pro Bowls during an outstanding 16-year pro career with the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, played in two Super Bowls (winning one), and owns the distinction of being the only player from a losing team ever named MVP of the game.

What hurts Howley’s candidacy is the fact that he played with a ton of great players while he was in Dallas. The Cowboys posted 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-85 – the third longest winning streak in professional sports history - and Howley was a prominent member of seven of those teams.

What also hurts Chuck is the fact that he was never a self-promoter, preferring instead to let his actions speak louder than his words.

Nevertheless, this Cowboys columnist believes Howley’s name should at least be included in the discussion …>

Hopefully enough people will one day see the light and include Howley among pro football’s best.

Happy New Year!

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