By John Raby
AP Sports Writer
West Virginia’s defense is on the verge of cementing its spot as the most porous in school history.
The Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) are giving up 50 points per game in conference play. If they allow at least 47 on Saturday at Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2), they’ll shatter the single-season school record of 364 points allowed, set in 1978.
And there’s still at least four games left.
“We can’t worry about what’s happened,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We’ve got to worry about what’s ahead of us.
“The last time I was aware, this is the first time West Virginia has ever played in the Big 12. It’s a league that can score; it’s a league that can play good defense. It’s a league that can play good football. A whole lot of parity exists in it, so we’ve got to take what’s happened and we’ve got to try to build on it. If we sit here and worry about this, and worry about that, we’re worrying about the wrong things.”
The most passing yards given up by any West Virginia team entering this season was 451. Two quarterbacks have surpassed that this year, and Baylor’s Nick Florence, Texas Tech’s Seth Doege and Kansas State’s Collin Klein combined to throw for 14 touchdowns and run for five more against the Mountaineers.
The Big 12 has seven of the top 18 scoring offenses in the country. West Virginia’s former conference, the Big East, has none in the top 30.
Mercifully, West Virginia doesn’t list a record for most yards allowed in a season. The Mountaineers are giving up 483 per game, 10th worst in the FBS and twice as much as the stingiest team, Florida State. That’s also 92 yards worse than any West Virginia defense over the past decade.
“Being in the Big 12 is a different league,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “I want to hold them to the least amount of points that we possibly can.”
And so comes the weekly task of facing another high-octane offense.
Oklahoma State is averaging 43 points and 576 yards, although the Mountaineers aren’t sure which quarterback they’ll face. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has said he expects starter Wes Lunt will split practice time with backup Clint Chelf this week before the team determines who will play. Lunt was hurt in the Cowboys’ loss to Kansas State last week.
“Teams are going to score,” said West Virginia defensive lineman Will Clarke. “That’s part of the game. If those 47 points are made, they’re made. But we’re going to try to stop teams from scoring. That’s just the focus we’re trying to have.”
Fans have debated whether DeForest’s 3-4 scheme is a step back from the 3-3-5 of predecessor Jeff Casteel, who oversaw the defense for a decade and helped the Mountaineers go 3-0 in BCS bowls. Casteel and two other assistant coaches joined Rich Rodriguez at Arizona this season. But Arizona is faring worse than West Virginia, giving up an average of 498 yards.
The Mountaineers coaching staff has seen some signs of improvement on a unit that’s leaned heavily on first-year players. Freshmen linebacker Isaiah Bruce and safety Karl Joseph are 1-2 in tackles and combine for two of the team’s six interceptions.
In a 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU last week, West Virginia’s defense gave up the fewest points in five games. One of TCU’s touchdowns came on special teams.
“I thought we communicated better,” DeForest said. “I thought we flew around better than we have since the James Madison game (Sept. 15). The emotion and the energy and the intensity that we played with, I thought it was obvious watching.”
Still, West Virginia was inept at the worst possible times against TCU, giving up a 94-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes of regulation when the defense lost track of a receiver, allowing a 25-yard TD strike in the second overtime and the ensuing two-point conversion pass that pushed the Mountaineers’ losing streak to three games.
“What we need to do this week is continue to work on the little things that cost us the game,” DeForest said. “There were five plays that if we would have made one of those plays, it would have been a different outcome.
“Games are won and lost by doing the little things right the whole game, and I think our kids realize we played really, really good, except for those five plays and it cost us. So now hopefully we’ll have a prolonged period of consistency and concentration.”