Coaches and Players: Defense Must Improve

  • By John Antonik
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  • October 01, 2012 08:21 AM
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A dejected Darwin Cook walked off the field after Saturday’s 70-63 victory over Baylor wondering just like the rest of us how a football team could score 70 points and still need to hang on to win a game.

But that’s what now-No.8-rated West Virginia was required to do in order to knock off the Bears in easily the wildest game ever played at Milan Puskar Stadium.

It was an afternoon that sometimes defied logic.

First things first, you have to give Baylor a lot of credit because Coach Art Briles has a fantastic offensive plan. The Bears have terrific wide receivers, they rotate them endlessly, they play at an extremely fast pace and they put constant pressure on the defense.

Baylor came into Saturday’s game ranked fifth in scoring offense (51.3 ppg.), fifth in passing offense (352.5 yards per game) and sixth in total offense (568.7 yards per game).

On Sunday morning, the Bears were four spots better in total offense (601.5 yards per game), three spots better in scoring offense (54.25 ppg.) and three spots improved in passing offense (416.5 yards per game).

Baylor has scored at least 30 points in 10 straight games, 45 points or more in eight straight games and has had 10 consecutive games with at least 500 yards of offense. Obviously it’s quite clear that other people have had trouble stopping the Bears, too.

But that’s not much of a consolation to Cook, who has played on some pretty good defenses around here in the past. Cook was a sophomore safety on the 2010 unit that ranked second in the country against the run, third in total yards allowed and third in points allowed. He was also the guy who stole the football at the goal line during last year’s Orange Bowl win against Clemson, turning around a game that seemed destined for a similar result.

Cook brought up all of the great defensive players the Mountaineers have produced of late – seven alone taken in the last two NFL drafts – when he began discussing Saturday’s performance against Baylor.

“I bet some of those guys were watching us on TV and they wanted to choke us,” Cook said. “It killed me because I am proud of what they gave. They gave good leadership and I try to give good leadership out there and I’ve just got to do a better job of that, I guess.”

Linebacker Doug Rigg was also around when those guys were playing on the Mountaineer defense.

“(The former players) would get on us about how unacceptable that was,” Rigg said. “I did play on a defense that was No. 2 or No. 3 in the nation in total defense and I saw how they worked and how they got after people, and no matter how talented the people were they were facing, they still got after them and we’ve got to do the same.”

Despite giving up nine touchdowns on Saturday, there were actually some areas where West Virginia’s defense performed pretty well. The Mountaineers limited Baylor to 119 yards rushing and an average of 2.6 yards per carry, they did get to quarterback Nick Florence three times for sacks and pressured him several other times, and for the most part, West Virginia was in good position – not like Baylor was several times, including leaving Stedman Bailey uncovered on a wheel route that resulted in an 87-yard touchdown.

There was just one instance that I can clearly recall (at the end of the half when Nick Florence was able to hit Lanear Sampson for a 67-yard touchdown pass) when WVU's defense was really out of sorts.

Still, the Mountaineers allowed big play after big play. All nine of Baylor’s scoring drives consumed less than three minutes of time and just seven plays accounted for 346 of the Bears’ 700 yards of total offense. When guys are consistently in position to make plays and can’t, that is obviously troubling to co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.

“They ran the same plays we practiced. They never really tempo’d us and they never really got us out of position,” said DeForest. “We were always in position to make a play – we just have to make a play.”

Cook agrees.

“We were in position to make all of the plays, we knew what they were doing and they did the same things we practiced on and on – curls and verticals – we just have to stop them and make the play,” he said. “That’s it. I feel like that defensive game was on us. He called the right plays and we’ve just got to make the play.”

It’s easy to point a finger at the secondary as the primary cause for the Mountaineers’ defensive issues on Saturday, but Rigg said it is much more complex than that.

“People are trying to go off on our corners and our safeties, saying it is their fault. But that’s not the truth at all,” Rigg said. “A lot of times getting sacks helps them out, too. They’re on an island with great receivers. I said it from the beginning of the week that their receivers were really talented and we didn’t do our job of getting to the quarterback. It was a collective group effort defensively not doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Moving forward, DeForest said he will take a hard look at the film to determine what they need to do as a staff in order to get the defense prepared for Texas. The No. 11-rated Longhorns will pose another big challenge this weekend in Austin, and the defense will almost assuredly not have a 70-point cushion to work with.

“We’ve got to go back and look at the film and make some personnel changes, we’ve got to make better calls, and we’ve got to do a better job of when the ball is in the air of attacking the ball,” said DeForest. “There were times when we played good defense and then we would give up (a big play) and they would throw the ball behind us. What do you do? You’ve just got to keep coaching, keep teaching and keep mixing up your calls.”

When the dust settled, the bottom line was that West Virginia was able to find a way to win a football game when it clearly was not at its best in one of the three phases of play, which is the most important thing of all.

“That is the No. 1 offense in the country,” DeForest pointed out. “Am I happy about it? No. But we won and we’re 4-0 and they’re not. It’s hard to take as a defensive coach – it’s very hard – but maybe this will make us better. We’re going to make some corrections.”

“Being a fan, this is fun to watch, but being a defensive guy and playing defense your whole life you definitely don’t want to see that, and just seeing the score go from 30-some to 40-some to 50-some, it kind of brings your morale down,” said Rigg. “But we’re going to have to get over it and go back to the drawing board.”

Cook just shook his head when asked what he thought about Saturday’s defensive performance.

“It was terrible, man,” he said. “I walked off the field. I wasn’t happy at all. I felt like we lost. That was a very bad game for the defense.

“You don’t give up 63 points from a couple of players – that’s the whole defensive unit.”

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 now available in bookstores. 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.


West Virginia University, WVU, Mountaineer football, Baylor Bears, Big 12 football

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