Defense Faces Different Challenge

West Virginia's defense passed its first test. Now it will be given an old school exam.

The Mountaineers held season-opening foe Syracuse to 103 yards of offense in a 15-7 Big East road win. The total ranks WVU No. 1 in the NCAA in yardage allowed.

It dominated Orange junior quarterback Perry Patterson for the third consecutive season, actually outscoring the Syracuse offense as spur safety Eric Wicks returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and nose guard Ernest Hunter tackled Patterson in the end zone for a safety. WVU also held Syracuse's backfield to a paltry 1.8 yards per carry.

"This is a great defense. It's beautiful," said Wicks, a Big East honor roll member in Week One. "There are a bunch of players running around making plays. If you miss one, there is somebody there to back you up."

But the Orange were trying to use players from its former option offense in first-year head coach Greg Robinson's new west coast attack.

"Everybody at every position played pretty well," bandit safety Mike Lorello said. "I feel good about the performance. But I don't think they played very well and I don't think that they would think they played well. The main goal is to be able to do that every week."

Enter division I-AA Wofford, whose wingbone offense is a relic of 1970s football rarely seen in today's game outside of the military academies. The Terriers, No. 19 in I-AA, place three players in the backfield and use trickery and fake handoffs to fool more talented defenses.

"Wofford really makes you play assignment football," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "They are very efficient. They know what they are doing with it."

Wofford rushed for 413 yards on 74 carries in a 34-24 opening win over Georgetown (Ky.). It controlled the ball almost twice as long as Georgetown, and will try to do the same against WVU's 3-3-5 stack defense.

The Mountaineers' aggressive, blitzing style worked against a short-passing team like Syracuse. West Virginia's challenge this week is to contain a running-based offense that wants to shorten the game as much as possible. Wofford's ball control will also put pressure on WVU's offense.

"You are only going to get seven to eight offensive possessions, and if you don't score on a couple of those, you have a game," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They recruit to it, and know everything they are supposed to do in it. It's also an advantage for them in that the teams they play don't see it very often."

WVU has not faced this style offense since Rodriguez's first year in 2001. The Mountaineers beat Ohio, 20-3, but needed two second-half goal line stands to do so. Rodriguez lost to Wofford as head coach at Salem (W.Va.) in 1988. Then first-year Terriers head coach Mike Ayers is now in his 18th season at Wofford.

"You don't count any team out because they are I-AA," Hunter said. "It doesn't mean they are not good. That just happens to be where they are. I would hope that this style of play would be typical of this defense, but it's going to take a lot of effort."

The game is a 6:00 p.m. kickoff on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Tickets are still available. There is no live television.

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