Defense the Key in WVU Upset

Back in 2010, Bill Stewart's final season as West Virginia's head coach, the Mountaineer defense was one of the best units in the country.

Running former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack scheme, it was a defense that WVU was able to depend on when the offense struggled to score points.

WVU never allowed more than 25 points that season - putting the Mountaineer offense well in position to win games if it could put the ball in the end zone a few times every game.

In Saturday's win against No. 11 Oklahoma State, this year's WVU defense - just a year removed from being one of the laughing stocks of college football - showed glimpses of being that same kind of defense. The Mountaineers were able to slow down a talented Oklahoma State offense that was averaging almost 500 yards and more than 45 points per game.

When so many people doubted the progress the defense made after allowing 37 points to Maryland last week, WVU answered the call by coming into Saturday's showdown at Milan Puskar Stadium hungrier than ever.

They wanted to prove that their team was just as good as anyone in the Big 12 Conference. Even the league's preseason favorite.

And they did exactly what they are expected to do each week: They made enough plays, got enough stops and gave West Virginia a good chance to pull off the upset.

To make things even sweeter for defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and the rest of his unit, WVU was able to do so by accomplishing the things it had so much trouble doing a year ago.

The Mountaineers made big plays, and helped force turnovers and turn it into more points to help the offense out until it got on track early in the game.

The first game-changing play came in the first quarter.

After Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh found Josh Stewart on a screen pass for a 73-yard catch-and-run for the score and Clint Trickett threw an interception, WVU corner Ishmael Banks returned a pick 58 yards to tie the game.

The Mountaineers went on to force two more turnovers, a fumble and a late fourth-quarter interception by Cook that helped seal the victory. On all three turnovers, West Virginia responded by scoring points - something it hadn't been successful at.

You saw this defense take a major step forward this week.

After the way it played last week, faced with one of the most dynamic offenses in a Big 12 Conference that is known for having good offenses, WVU fought and improved instead of letting that loss get to them.

But you're only as good as your next game.

Now that West Virginia knows what it can do, it's going to be expected to perform up to these standards the rest of the year.

This isn't the same Mountaineer defense that was ranked near the bottom in just about every defensive statistical category you could think of a year ago. Heading into the Oklahoma State game, WVU was ranked in the top 35 nationally in both total and scoring defense, and was No. 12 in the country allowing just 155 passing yards per game.

It wasn't hard to see that the Mountaineers had improved on defense, it just had to show that it had that same type of ability the great defenses at this school have had. They needed to show that they can win games for WVU, even when the offense doesn't play its best game.

Saturday, this defense did just that.

Any questions there were around it were answered in emphatic fashion against an extremely talented offensive team.

But the question is can they continue to do that next week when they travel to Baylor?

Much like Saturday, where the Mountaineers still gave up a good amount of yards, the Bears will do their damage offensively. But if WVU loses that game, it won't be because of the defense.

They've proved time and time again that they'll do their job.

Saturday just showed that they can do it against a high-profile offense. And as long as the offense does its part, things could start to turn around for this WVU team.

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