By Cam Huffman
“What’s wrong with the defense?”
That question has been every bit as prevalent in the Mountain State over the last couple of days as “Who are you voting for for president?” or “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?”
Following West Virginia University’s 49-14 loss at Texas Tech last Saturday, first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest has been about as popular as lima bean-flavored ice cream.
But the 49 points and 513 yards the WVU defense gave up in Lubbock, Texas, weren’t all that surprising. The Mountaineers are next-to-last in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing more than 37 points per game, and they’re in the same spot in total defense, allowing nearly 500 yards per contest.
So the performance at Jones AT&T Stadium wasn’t far from the norm.
The offense was a much different story. WVU has had one of the best attacks in the country all year, scoring more than 45 points and racking up over 540 yards per contest.
The 14 points and 295 yards the then-No. 5 Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) ended up posting against the Red Raiders, therefore, was a total shock to most.
“It probably started with the inability to run the ball,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who saw his team fall all the way to No. 17 and likely out of the BCS Championship picture after the first loss of the year. “We didn’t do a very good job of finishing blocks early in the game. We didn’t make anybody miss at the running back spot. But that wasn’t all. We just never got into a rhythm.”
Holgorsen was also quick to give credit to Texas Tech, which has one of the conference’s top defenses, allowing just 16.3 points and 243 yards per game — numbers, the Mountaineers learned the hard way, that weren’t just a result of a less-than-stellar early schedule.
“Tech does a good job defensively,” said the second-year coach. “They have against everybody they’ve played. They were disruptive, and when we went out and fell behind, our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to handle another shootout. I think that affected their performance.
“We weren’t able to throw the ball down the field. When we got guys open down the field, we didn’t do a good job of hitting them. It was a combination of a lot of things.”
But Holgorsen felt the main problem Saturday had nothing to do with schemes or physical performance.
“I was really disappointed that we weren’t able to bow up when we faced some adversity,” he said. “Bottom line is we were getting our butt kicked, and we didn’t have anybody bow up.”
So what will the WVU coaches do differently this week to assure the same problems won’t show up Saturday when No. 4 Kansas State (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) visits Morgantown for a 7 p.m. showdown that will air live on FOX?
The man in charge said the approach won’t change.
“We’ll go about it the same way we did the previous five games when we were successful offensively,” said Holgorsen, whose team put up 70 points against Marshall and 69 against Baylor earlier this season. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what we’re doing offensively. I think we had a bad game. I don’t think anybody across the country in the history of football has been able to put up the numbers that we were on a very, very consistent basis.”
And as much as it hurt initially, Holgorsen said he’s already seen a positive impact from Saturday’s loss.
“(Sunday), their sense of urgency was a lot better than it was during the game and during the travel,” he said. “These guys got a little bit embarrassed, and I think we’ll play a lot harder and a lot better this week.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to win, because we’ve got a really good team coming in here.”
But if the Mountaineers are scoring points, they usually have a chance.
— E-mail: chuffman@