Pat Miller is one of the few defensive backs with experience on West Virginia’s defense.
Last year, the Birmingham, Ala. resident appeared in all 13 games, starting nine at right cornerback, where he made 66 tackles, picked off two passes and made three pass breakups.
Both of Miller’s interceptions last season came in the final two games of the season, including a 52-yard pick six at USF that helped decide a close, 30-27 Mountaineer victory.
So when Miller broke his foot last spring it was a big setback, not only for Miller personally, but also for a very young secondary as well. At the time, West Virginia was only operating with three scholarship corners and Miller’s absence created a huge void in the secondary.
During his recovery period Miller said all he could really do was get stronger.
“That’s why I hit the weights harder than I ever did,” he said recently. “Then, once I got back onto the field I started going hard on the field.”
Miller has since transferred the energy and dedication that he displayed in the weight room into his all-around game when he returned to the field at the start of preseason camp. Presently, Miller is list as the team’s No. 1 boundary cornerback heading into Saturday’s opener against Marshall.
“Sometimes when people get hurt they come back physically stronger, but me, I came back stronger and my mental game came up a lot,” Miller admitted. “When I got hurt I kept thinking about plays and plays and just imagined the plays that I could make. Once I got back, I had everything in my head and that really built my confidence up, too.”
Miller is an important piece of a secondary that features just three other upperclassmen in junior corner Brodrick Jenkins
, senior corner Cecil Level and senior bandit safety Darwin Cook
Because Miller is one of the few returning players with extensive experience, he knows what he does and what he says is being watched closely by the other younger players in his group.
“I’m in a position where I can’t take a day off,” he said. “If you take a day off you’ve got the other freshmen looking at you and they might be thinking, ‘Oh, man, I can do it too’ and now they are learning bad habits. No matter how tired I am or no matter what’s going on, I’ve always got to be the one that’s going hard and fast.”
Making that easier for Miller is the fact that he has to guard Tavon Austin
and Stedman Bailey
in practice on a daily basis. Take a day off against them and they will embarrass you.
“You don’t want to get embarrassed,” Miller said. “Playing cornerback has to come with a lot of confidence. Sometimes somebody might make a play, that’s just how the game goes, but the whole thing about it is you have to stop the deep ball and stop the big play and just make plays. The whole thing about playing cornerback is making plays.”
The new 3-4 scheme the Mountaineers are using will put pressure on the corners, and they can sometimes be placed out on an island, but Miller says that’s really the case in any defense a corner will play. With the way teams spread out defenses, no players can be hidden or helped, especially on the outside.
“That shouldn’t be in your head, ‘I’m out here by myself’ or ‘I’m the last line,’” Miller stated. “That’s why you play your position. When you play cornerback you know what to expect and you know what is going to happen as long as you are on top of your game.
“You can embarrass a receiver too,” he added. “It’s not necessarily you are one-on-one and he’s going to get a free release and go down the field and make the catch. We’ve got all types of techniques and stuff we do. We press and we can get physical with receivers, and receivers don’t like to get hit either.”
Miller admits corners have to have short memories. If you worry about a play you messed up then that could lead to even more mess ups.
“Short mind, short memory,” he noted. “You have to forget a good play and a bad play. Once a play is over it’s a whole different play. Nothing from the past can affect the next play.”
Miller admits there are some subtle differences between the way he learned the position from former coach Dave Lockwood and the way new coach Daron Roberts is currently teaching it. However, it still comes down to the corners having the ability to get to the football and making plays.
“Coach Lock had his own way of teaching and Coach Rob has a different way of teaching, but each of their techniques work,” he said. “They know how to put their technique to work with a different type of player. But in the end, the point of the defense is to stop the big play and don’t let them score. No matter what technique you use, at the end of the day you’ve got to make the play.”
Miller and the rest of his Mountaineer secondary mates will be tested right away by Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, a senior with NFL size and playmaking ability who caught 49 passes for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns last year as a junior.
Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker also have experience catching the football and will provide stern tests for the Mountaineers.
Saturday’s game will kick off at noon and will be televised on FX.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 available in bookstores this fall. 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.