By Dave Morrison
To understand West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin, you only needed to see sack No. 12 on the season for the junior college transfer.
Apparently, just sacking the quarterback wasn’t good enough for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Walnut, Calif., native.
So Irvin simply sacked the guard, who happened to get in the way, and the quarterback in the Mountaineers’ 35-14 win over Rutgers.
“They were the pulling the guard so that I couldn’t go inside, so I went outside,” Irvin said.
So did the guard. He thought about going inside but then gave up that thought.
“I just said, ‘Forget about it,’” he said. So he took them both out.
It was a highlight for Irvin, who Wednesday was named second-team all-Big East despite playing mostly in third-down situations.
Irvin came in with a boatload of potential and the swagger to match when he arrived at West Virginia from Mount San Antonio Community College.
He was the talk of fall camp. Indeed, despite missing spring practice, he boasted that he would get 15 sacks this season.
Something funny happened en route to the 15 sacks.
He had exactly zero — in fact, the team had zero — through the first two games.
And his teammates let him have it.
Irvin took it in stride. And did something about it.
“That was my first Division I games being played, so the speed was different,” Irvin said. “After the Maryland game it kind of slowed down for me and I got adjusted and comfortable with running the plays. It slowed down and it just worked out.”
He finished with 12 in the final 10 games.
“No, it just motivates me more to work on my craft and work on what I was brought in here to do,” Irvin said. “I don’t really talk smack now. But it does feel good that nobody can say anything to you anymore.”
“Yeah, that was me, I wouldn’t shut up about that,” said big defensive tackle Chris Neild, a first-team All-Big East defensive lineman who, at 6-2, 301 pounds, may be one of the few guys big enough get away with it. “I still give him stuff about it.
“He is a weapon. He is something that you can’t really control. When he’s out there, and you’re an offensive tackle, you’ve got to get low to block him. And that’s something that is really hard to do with someone with that kind of speed coming off the edge with that kind of force. It’s hard to understand how it comes off the edge that fast. But he produces and he helps this defense. And that is big.”
“Bruce hasn’t played a lot of football up until this point,” defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. “It was more of a situation where he got comfortable with what we were asking him to do. He got better each week. He’s a big-play guy.”
The art of the sack is basic for Irvin, who is blessed with both speed and power.
“It’s a little bit of both. Speed (and) technique,” he said. “You have to set the tackle up. Apparently I like to go inside, so teams are starting to realize that. Pitt did, too, they wouldn’t let me go on the inside. It’s about setting them up.”
Irvin is happy about both the Mountaineers’ four-game win streak to finish the season and the fact that he has another game — the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28 — to get to his goal of 15.
“We stumbled a couple of games, but we picked it up, turned it around and we won out,” Irvin said. “And now we’re going to win a share of the Big East (title).”
“We all stuck together and we didn’t believe what the people were saying who were trying to divide the lockerroom. Everyone wanted to blame it on the offense. But we’re a team. That’s how it is. I’m so happy for this team. We stuck together. And we won the Big East.”
Of course, he knew that from his visit, when Scooter Berry was his host.
“There was something about West Virginia that I didn’t feel on my other visits,” Irvin said. “It’s family, everybody sticks together. When I got here they knew I was the big guy coming in, but they embraced me, took me under (their wing) and showed me the way. And I really appreciate it.”
Casteel, for one, sees room for improvement from Irvin.
“When we got a chance to see him in camp, you could tell he was a talented kid. It was a matter of him settling in and know what his role was. He’s a big, strong kid who can run. That puts pressure on kids trying to block him. And he’s going to get better as he plays. He still has a lot of things he can get better at. Right now, he’s using a lot of his athleticism. When we have a chance to work with him in spring practice, he is going to have a chance to get a lot better.”
In addition to Neild, linebacker J.T. Thomas and defensive backs Keith Tandy and Robert Sands were named to the first-team All-Big East defensive team.
The Mountaineers rank third in the nation in total defense, allowing just 251 yards per game and second in points allowed (12.8 per game).
No WVU offensive players made the first team.
Quarterback Geno Smith, wide receivers Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin and offensive lineman Don Barclay were named to the second team, as were Berry, Irvin and cornerback Brandon Hogan.
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