By Cam Huffman
AUSTIN, Texas —
When West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest told his players to have a short memory, Pat Miller listened.
Last week, Miller was the punchline to every bad joke about the West Virginia defense. The senior cornerback from Birmingham, Ala., got beat deep, had receivers run by him when he was in position and missed tackles even when he got his mitts on an opposing player.
When fans, analysts and casual viewers used WVU’s defense as an example of what’s wrong with the current trend of college football — where a team can score 70 points and still be in danger of losing, as the Mountaineers were in a 70-63 defeat of Baylor in their first-ever Big 12 game — Miller became the poster boy.
“We were getting pounded in all types of ways last week — people were doubting us as a defense,” Miller admitted. “We didn’t really appreciate how people were acting toward us. Everybody has a bad day, but you have to learn from your mistakes.”
Texas knew all about Miller’s struggles. The Longhorns had seen the game films. They’d heard the jokes.
So with WVU clinging to a 41-38 lead in the fourth quarter Saturday night at Texas’ Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and the Longhorns facing a fourth-and-13 at the WVU 39-yard line, it was no surprise that they tried to pick on Miller.
But when Texas quarterback David Ash looked for wide receiver Mike Davis for the second play in a row, trying to keep the drive alive, Miller, playing man-to-man coverage, was ready. He played the ball and the receiver perfectly, avoiding contact, getting in position and then knocking the pass to the ground. In a game where defensive stops were rare, Miller’s play gave the Mountaineers the ball with the lead.
“We had tight coverage,” Miller explained of the game-changing play. “I was out there with the receivers. We knew what to expect, because we watched the film a lot. Trusting my team and breaking to the ball, that comes from practicing.”
But Miller’s night wasn’t over yet.
After a Geno Smith fumble gave Texas the ball back at the WVU 12-yard line — in perfect position to tie or take the lead — the Longhorns were looking at a third-and-6 from the WVU 8-yard line, still down three.
With the play clock winding down, Texas snapped the football before Ash was ready, and it sailed right past him. The sophomore sprinted after the bouncing pigskin, still trying to make a play, but when he scooped it up and looked down the field, he was plowed over by an excited Mountaineer — Miller.
The 16-yard loss forced Texas into a long field goal, which missed the mark, and WVU went on to a 48-45 victory.
In total, on the unusually chilly night in the Lone Star State, Miller finished with five tackles and two pass breakups, more than redeeming himself for the Baylor setbacks.
“Pat Miller deserves all the credit in the world,” said DeForest. “He made a play, and he’s a huge reason why we won the game. People were down on him, but you don’t need to be down on Pat. He’s going to fight back.
“Sure, you look at the yards and points and all that (WVU allowed Texas to accumulate 45 points and 404 yards of offense), but the bottom line is we made the stop when we needed a stop.”
Miller explained that it was that attitude from his coach that helped him through what he called a difficult week.
“The first thing Coach DeForest said in practice was, ‘I believe in you; I’m not going to give up on you,’” said Miller. “That’s all I needed to hear. They believed in us, so we had to go out and do it. They put us in position to make plays, and we made plays.”
Just as it was after the poor performance against Baylor, Miller said it’s equally important to quickly forget about what happened at Texas, in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch a Mountaineer football game. WVU passed one test, but there are plenty of talented offenses left on the schedule — including the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State — and the defense will be tested over and over in the offensive-minded Big 12.
But Miller believes his team will be ready.
“This was a confidence booster for us, and we needed that confidence,” he said. “Texas had a great team, and they gave us everything they had. But we stepped up. That’s going to give us confidence as a defense to know we can compete with anybody.
“We go against the best every day in practice. There’s nowhere to go but up. We proved it one time, now we just have to prove it week in and week out.”
And if the critics still aren’t quieted, Miller knows exactly how to tune them out.
“People are going to say what they say,” said WVU’s No. 6, who played for Rush Propst at Hoover High School — the player and team featured in MTV’s television series “Two-A-Days.”
“Last week they were beating us up, and now they want to boost us up. But the outside means nothing. All that matters is what we do in our film room, in the weight room and on the field.”
— E-mail: chuffman@