Team Ball

After the defense outscored the offense 9-6 in West Virginia's physical 15-7 win over Syracuse on Sunday, it might be expected that the guys who usually play without the ball would be ready to deal out some kidding to their teammates on the other side of the ball.

However, no one on the defense, which throttled Syracuse and allowed just 103 total yards (good for the number one defensive spot in the nation this week), was prepared to do that. In fact, they went out of their way to emphasize that this edition of the Mountaineers is all about team.

"The offense was driving, and they had a few mistakes, but they had some good drives," defensive lineman Keilen Dykes said. "They are going to get it together. Coach Rod will get them together, and they will be all right."

Dykes is become well known for his verbal prowess, so it was something of a surprise to hear that he didn't plan on mentioning that during this week's preparation. Dykes, of course, didn't participate in the scoring, so the thought was that perhaps that held him back from commenting. However, checks with the two defenders that got on the scoreboard yielded similar comments.

The first to weigh in was spur Eric Wicks, whose excellent read led to an interception and a leisurely stroll to the end zone to tie the score at 7-7 in the second quarter. Wicks, who is becoming a leader on the Mountaineer defense, displayed maturity in his remarks.

"They are going to get it together," Wicks said of the offense. "Next week they will come out and play their game. This week, the defense had their game. It's a good thing you can have the defense play well one day and the offense another day. And once we get them together, we are going to have a great game."

So, we've found that putting seven points on the board doesn't change the outlook – it's still a one-for-all attitude. Just to make sure, Ernest Hunter, who recorded a sack for a safety in the fourth quarter to help secure the win, was asked the same question.

"We don't kid the offense like that," said Hunter, who is among the most thoughtful players on the team. [Everyone] is doing the best that they can, and sometimes things don't work out the way you want them too. The same thing goes for the defense. Sometimes you just don't execute the way you'd like to, and things go wrong. Today things didn't go right for the offense, but I know, and I have confidence, that they will play better next week."

Nothing less should have been expected from Hunter, a senior who leads by example and can always be counted on to provide a positive model for others. As one of WVU's Apostles, Hunter provides that leadership in a number of ways, so it's no surprise that he backed his teammates after their frustrating performance.

What shouldn't be overlooked, however, is that all of these players expressed these views right after the game. Fresh from the heat of battle, the comments of players are much more likely to reflect their emotions and true feelings. Give them a day or two to reflect, and the answers are often more measured and bland. So, the fact that the Mountaineer defense, to the man, stood up for the offensive counterparts, and didn't even plan some good natured ribbing, says volumes about the closeness and togetherness of the team.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez echoed that sentiment a couple of days later, observing that the 2005 Mountaineers are one of the most close-knit and supportive squads he has coached. Many players assume support roles, and constantly encourage their teammates, according to Coach Rod, who hopes that behavior continues to spread and grow.

Of course, none of this actually puts points on the board for the offense. The Mountaineer attack troops are no doubt a bit bothered by their performance on Saturday, and are working to iron out the kinks, secure the ball, and return to their high-scoring ways. There's not much doubt, however, that having the support of their teammates will go a long way toward helping them achieve that goal.

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