MORGANTOWN — “We’re all excited,” said Eric Wicks of West Virginia University’s improved defense which faces Western Michigan here Saturday in the 2007 football season’s opener.

“We can hardly wait to play the first game. All the guys are a little bit more hungry. They understand what we need to accomplish and what our goals are. I think that’s what we’re going out to prove.”

The Mountaineers, who ranked 109th nationally in pass defense in 2006, are expected to be severely tested in the secondary. The Broncos completed 252 of 408 passes for 2,403 yards and 20 touchdowns last year in posting an 8-5 record.

Western Michigan’s defense, on the other hand, was most effective against the rush, allowing an average of just 76.1 yards per game. So it’s expected to load the box against WVU’s vaunted ground game.

“They run the ball a lot and have two pretty good quarterbacks,” said Wicks, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior from Pittsburgh. “I think what they’re going to do is attack us. This game is going to set the foundation for what we’re going to do this year.

“We don’t want to look back and think how we did last year against the run. We did poorly against the pass. We’re just going to try to look at this as a stepping stone.”

Wicks was the third-leading tackler last year with 73, including team-highs of 11 tackles for losses and seven quarterback sacks.

Like so many others, he thinks the defense has improved significantly both mentally and physically.

“Mentally, the guys understand what’s going on and knowing their team,” he explained. “And as far as physically, guys coming out and giving it all they’ve got.”

He believes the addition of  Ryan Mundy at free safety provides valuable experience. He played three years at Michigan.

“Ryan is a great athlete,” Wicks said. “He understands the game. He’ll help us in the secondary and also on some special teams.”

Wicks thinks the secondary is not only more experienced but wiser than it was last season. He said youth and a lot of missed assignments really hurt.

“I think this year we’re going to key mostly on not missing assignments while just trying to get the job done,” he concluded.

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