UConned

Mountaineer linebacker Jeff Noechel's play rises to peak levels when he faces the Connecticut Huskies, but the West Virginia native is hard-pressed to identify the reasons for it.

Noechel would have loved to play UConn more than twice in his career, as he has recorded two stellar performances in the Mountaineers' two wins over the Big East newcomer. Last year, in Hartford, the senior linebacker racked up seven sacks, intercepted one pass and deflected another in West Virginia's 31-19 win. He also forced a fumble and had a tackle for loss in earning defensive champion honors for the game.

Fast forward a year to 2005, and the hard-working Noechel again made his mark against the Huskies. He set the tone for West Virginia defensive dominance by flattening quarterback Dennis Brown on an option on the Huskies first series – a thunderous plant that forced an early pitch and a two-yard loss. Although that hit didn't show up in any game stats, it certainly let the visitors know that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with on the evening.

"We knew they run the option out of that formation, so I was kind of expecting it," Noechel recounted. "I saw the QB coming out there, and that hit felt good. The coaches told us we needed to hit him right off the bat, so that was a good start."

Allowing himself a small smile as he made those statements, there wasn't much doubt that Noechel knew the impact of his hit went far beyond the normal first contact of the game. After planting Brown on his back, Noechel and the rest of the defense sensed that it might be a long night for the Huskies.

Although Noechel finished with just two tackles, both came behind the line of scrimmage. He racked up a ten-yard loss with a sack, then again spilled Brown, this time dumping him head over heels, for another two-yard loss just when the Husky QB appeared ready to finally break through the smothering West Virginia defense.

"We knew he would be kind of confused, so we wanted to move around and get some pressure on him," Noechel said. "He struggled some, and we wanted to get to him as much as we could."

That WVU did, recording seven sacks and twice as many hits on Brown, who persevered courageously against the swarming WVU defense. As for his individual propensity for making big plays against the Huskies, however, he was at a loss.

"I don't know what the deal is with that," he said with equal parts happiness and puzzlement. "I just knew I had to come out and make plays. I don't know if it's UConn, or night games, or what it is. I just wanted to come out and play well."

Noechel and his teammates certainly achieved that goal, and he didn't have any problem identifying the key factor for the defense's success, which included such stellar numbers as 12 rushing yards and 129 yards of total offense allowed, and a combined 3-17 mark in third and fourth down conversions.

"All the preparation through the week," was his immediate answer for the defensive show. "The coaches prepared us well. We knew pretty much what they were going to do, and we adjusted to it well. We knew we wanted to stop the rush, and I think we did a good job on that."


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