The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 24, 2010

Wannstedt sees Mountaineers’ defensive ‘swagger’

West Virginia defensive lineman Scooter Berry calls it swagger.

Whatever it is, the Mountaineer defense has it.

“You got to have swagger,” Berry said. “Coach (Bill) Stewart says to play with arrogance, not ignorance, so we try to buy into that. If you feel good, you’re going to play good.”

And nobody knows the West Virginia defense has played well, great even, better than Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.

West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East) and Pitt (6-4, 4-1) battle at noon Friday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in the annual Backyard Brawl.

He’s seen the Mountaineers’ “swagger” on film and in the few occasions he’s had to watch them on television this season.

If not, he could just go to the ratings, where he sees the Mountaineers among the national leaders in most team defensive categories, including first in third-down percentage, allowing opponents to convert third downs just 21.7 percent (30 of 132) of the time.

The Mountaineers are also fourth in total defense (245.1 yards per game), fourth in points allowed (12.9), fourth in rushing defense (88), fifth in sacks (3.2 per game) and eighth in pass defense (157.1).

“When you look at the statistics, they’re playing as well defensively as anyone in the nation, and not just in one single category,” Wannstedt said. “When you look at their scoring defense, they’re at 12 points per game. That’s impressive.

“When you look at their rushing defense, their red zone, their third down — they’re playing very well as a unit. They’re not giving up very many big plays.

“They have experience and guys that have been in the system a couple of years and that helps them.”

Additionally, Keith Tandy is fourth nationally in interceptions (6) and Bruce Irvin is tied for fifth nationally in sacks — ironically, with Pittsburgh’s Brandon Lindsey — with 10.

Wannstedt said one of the main reasons is WVU’s rare 3-3-5 defensive scheme.

“It is different because of the three-down-linemen scheme,” he said. “Most of the teams in our conference are four-down-lineman schemes. Some of them are a combination of both, so they do present your offense with a challenge — particularly with a week like this when you’re one day short preparing to block that. That’s a big challenge, and then when you combine that different style with good players, it gives you problems.

“I would say that they’re very disciplined. As reckless as they play, they have good athletes and they know the system — it’s nothing new for them and they play within the system. They don’t make many mistakes, either.”

Berry said the Mountaineers aren’t feeling pressure to win games or maintain their status in the ratings.

“I don’t want to say there is pressure because we just go out there on the field and play our game,” he said. “ If we continue to do what we do, the stats will take care of themselves. It’s nice to know that you are one of the top defenses in the country, but at the end of the day, it’s all about how you play.”

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