West Virginia's defense was instrumental in Saturday's 17-16 victory over Kansas State, as the unit consistently got the better of Wildcat quarterback Jesse Ertz, forcing the sophomore quarterback into just a 33 percent completion rating (10 for 30) and holding him to a mere 2.1 yards per carry. Jarrod Harper, who has been on West Virginia's roster for the previous four defeats against K-State, said a big reason why the Mountaineers were able to stifle the KSU offense was that the defense played together.
"We just had to play together," Harper said. "It's a four quarter game and in the second half we came in and made some adjustments. In the second half we played way better as a team. Offense, defense and special teams. We made some plays and got off the field on critical downs and that was the difference."
Harper also said the sellout crowd of over 61,000 played a factor in West Virginia's win and credited the fans in the stands for keeping the energy high, something that the team was able to feed off of throughout the game.
"You look at the (Seattle) Seahawks and their 12th man," Harper said. "That's our 12th man. We have to take advantage of playing at home and get those wins at home. I'm just proud of the guys and how we played on all three sides of the ball today."
What made the defensive performance especially impressive was that the Mountaineer secondary was able to limit big plays through the air despite the fact that they were missing Antonio Crawford and Toyous Avery, who are both featured in the West Virginia two deep. Harper discussed playing without the two defenders and praised the play of Elijah Battle, who looked excellent in his first real time playing Division 1 football.
"Like I said earlier in the week, in practice we're always rotating guys in and out," Harper said. "We're not always with Crawford or Rasul (Douglas) so we have confidence in each other and it's always been the next man up. Eljah came in and made some plays and I'm proud of him and how he stepped up. He comes to work every day just like us. He puts the time and effort into film room and he practices hard and works hard. He's coachable and he took advantage of his opportunity today and made the most of it."
Developing depth in the secondary will be key to the success of the defense going forward, and espeically in two weeks, when the Mountaineers take on Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX. And although the players will quickly shift their focus to preparing for the Red Raiders, Harper did admit it felt great to finally beat Kansas State.
"It feels great," Harper said. "Being here for four losses it feels great to finally get that win. Coach Holgorsen was saying we only needed to win by one and that's all it took."