The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 11, 2011

WVU hopes defense improves against Bearcats

BECKLEY — Coming off losses in two of the last three games and fading fast in the Big East, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is desperate for more unity and effort from his players, especially on defense.

The first-year coach said in disgust that if he had only 55 guys that were willing to play together to win, that’s all he would take with him when the Mountaineers (6-3, 2-2 Big East) play at No. 23 Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0) Saturday.

“We’re going to take who wants to win,” Holgorsen said. “We’re going to take who wants to pull for his teammates and who wants to be all in on this thing, not guys that pout and mope because they’re not playing. We’re going to be a united team, and the only way I know how to get that accomplished is to make sure that we’re only taking people that are focused and headed in the right direction.”

Holgorsen didn’t single out individual players nor did he make a direct reference to the offense, which netted 533 yards and five scores in a 38-35 loss to Louisville last Saturday.

West Virginia’s defense allowed 351 total yards and let a Louisville offense that had converted fewer than half its red-zone scoring chances find the end zone four times.

“We came to a point in the second half that we had some stops and played well with some energy,” Holgorsen said. “But that doesn’t excuse the three drives that happened in the first half and the eight-minute drive that Louisville was able to put up to close the game.”

A defense that replaced seven starters from last season is last in the Big East in points allowed. The defense has surrendered 104 points and 14 touchdowns in the last three games.

“I believe we can play harder,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “We knew we’d have our work cut out for us. We haven’t gotten in sync really throughout the whole year. I think it’s obviously been frustrating for the kids and the coaches. You’ve just got to keep banging at it and eventually, you push through it.”

Senior defensive end Bruce Irvin didn’t name names, either, but said he’s fed up with teammates who appear to be playing with a lack of fervor.

“I think we better get them up out the program, man,” Irvin said. “It’s bringing the program down.”

Cornerback Keith Tandy said younger, inexperienced players sometimes are too eager to contribute instead of just concentrating on doing their jobs.

“I just think people, they want to make a play so bad, they just catch themself trying too hard,” Tandy said.

Casteel was quick to dismiss the defense being handed a short field on some possessions due to turnovers or special teams miscues as an excuse for his players.

“That’s OK,” Casteel said. “That’s part of the game. The bottom line is that no matter where you go out and play defense, you’ve got to do a good job. The kids understand that. We’ve just been inconsistent in doing the things we need to do.”

The job doesn’t get any easier against Cincinnati, whose 39-point scoring average is one better than West Virginia’s.

Last year the Mountaineers held quarterback Zach Collaros without a touchdown pass in a 37-10 win over the Bearcats in Morgantown. He helped beat the Mountaineers two years ago in Cincinnati.

“We have a lot of respect for him,” Casteel said. “He’s a great player. He’s a competitor.”

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