Defense steps up in WVU victory

Dana Holgorsen sounded pretty amazed that he was saying what he did during his postgame press conference.

His West Virginia football team had just left Boone Pickens Stadium with a 34-10 victory against Oklahoma State, and the fourth-year head coach was asked to comment on the impact his defense had in the victory.

"To get two turnovers in a game - and for one of them to actually score," Holgorsen said. "I didn't think I was ever going to see that, to be quite honest with you."

Despite how good the Mountaineers have been on the defensive side of the ball for the last few weeks, and it's hard to name many defenses in college football that have had a better two-week stretch than the one WVU is having after what it did this week and in last week's win against Baylor, the one thing that has been talked about and pointed out by both Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has been this team's need to win the turnover battle. WVU had done that just once heading into Saturday's game, beating Alabama 1-0 in its season opener thanks to a Daryl Worley interception.

Freshman Dravon Henry's two interceptions (including one that he returned 52 yards for a touchdown) helped pace a Mountaineer defense that stepped up in a big way when it needed to in a game in which the WVU offense was struggling at times to fire on all cylinders.

Oklahoma State was able to counter WVU's quick pair of scores in the game's first six minutes by slowly working the momentum back into its favor and finding some holes in the Mountaineers' scheme to cut the West Virginia lead to 14-10 going into the locker room.

But when they came out for those final two quarters, the Mountaineers buckled down, and it was a big reason they were able to finish off the win Saturday.

After averaging nearly seven yards per snap in the first half, the Cowboys hit a wall during their six second-half drives. West Virginia allowed just 132 yards on 36 plays - an average of 3.7 yards per play. Those drives ended three turnovers on downs, two punts and Henry's interception return for a score.

But I come away from this one not necessarily impressed with the fact that West Virginia was able to do that, it's the fact that you're starting to see this become the norm for a WVU program that would have never been thought of as a hard-nosed, defensive-minded football team for the last two seasons.

This is a team that is starting to get to the point where, when things are getting tough and their back is against the wall, they can have confidence in the fact that they have a defense that it is going to be able to rely on to make the crucial stops and get off the field to give the offense a chance to get back on track. It's amazing to see the strides this unit has made.

After a couple of seasons in which you cringed and held onto your seat wondering about all the ways they could screw up and allow a big third-down conversion, the Mountaineers have become one of the best teams in the country in third down defense. WVU entered Saturday's game No. 25 in the country, and will almost definitely move up after Oklahoma State finished just 2-for-25 on third down.

The offense has been playing at a level it struggled to play at consistently a year ago. But it's the defense that has been the most impressive the last few weeks.

And it's the reason that, eight games into this season, the Mountaineers are in the hunt for the Big 12 title.

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