The West Virginia Mountaineer defense is on the verge of a stellar turnaround this season.
Coming off a staunch performance against a high powered Oklahoma State offense, the West Virginia football team continues to prove themselves week-in and week-out on the defensive side of the ball.
Oklahoma State came into this past Saturday’s game with a 45.3 scoring average on offense, but the Mountaineers held them to just 21 points.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has been up to the task, turning around what was at least statistically, the worst defense in WVU history just one short season ago.
Earlier in the week, while WVU was preparing for the Oklahoma State offense, Patterson encouraged his defense to “raise the standard.” He wanted them to make plays and then come up with even bigger ones.
It certainly sunk in with cornerback Ishmael Banks, who came up with a game changing 58-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Setting up scores for the offense is now the main goal of the defense.
“Set up scores or score for our offense” Banks said. “We’ve been getting three-and-outs, but we’ve got to do a little more since we’re more experienced on the defensive side of the ball.”
Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh’s two interceptions and completion percentage of 42.6 were career-worst marks for the sophomore.
It’s not enough for this Mountaineer defense just to make ordinary plays, they’ve made it a priority to score off turnovers. It was the difference against Oklahoma State, and possibly could be the difference against Baylor this week.
Five games into the season, it has become clear that the defense’s early season success is no fluke. West Virginia has 11 takeaways in five games. After allowing 38.1 points per game a year ago, the number is now down to 19.6.
Oklahoma State had 19 offensive possessions Saturday, only three ended in points. Five resulted in three-and-outs, another three in turnovers, two in missed field goals and one ended on downs. Overall, the Mountaineers defense forced 10 punts and allowed just three drives to go over six plays.
Can the Mountaineers keep this kind of play going against another high powered offense in Baylor? One that’s only averaging 69.7 points-per-game and a defense that’s allowed 7.7.
The short answer is yes.
Anytime a team is playing good defense, it has the ability to stay in the game. Even if the offense is sputtering, a good defense that causes turnovers and turns them into scores is more than any team could ask for.
That’s what this Mountaineer defense is beginning to do, and it’s a sign of real improvement.
Baylor has yet to play anyone of significance, so far three wins have come against Wofford, Buffalo, and LA-Monroe. This cake-walk of a non-conference schedule could come back to bite the Bears.
We might see West Virginia’s early loss at Oklahoma pay off. The Mountaineers hung right in there with what may be the top team in the conference.
West Virginia is battle tested, Baylor is not. This will already be the Mountaineers third Big 12 conference game, but it will only be Baylor’s first.
Baylor’s offense is certainly good, but it’s hard to believe they’re 70 points-per-game good, which would be a historical feat, no doubt, if they keep it up. This same reason may bring them down to earth against WVU.
What are the odds that they’re going to drop 69 or 70 points four weeks in a row? I’m not a mathematician for a reason, but that doesn’t seem likely.
The Bears are a four touchdown favorite in this game. They’re at home, and it could get ugly if the Mountaineer offense can’t at least pick up a few first downs, allowing for the defense to get some rest.
I’m willing to bet that the Baylor defense isn’t 7.7 points-per-game good though. The reality of Baylor’s great stats probably lies somewhere in the middle.
If the Mountaineers are to pull the upset this Saturday night, the defense must rise to the occasion once again, and then some.