And yet there are diatribes – the lies, darn lies and statistics entourage – on switching not only schemes, but coaches. In typically 19th century French-like reasoning, it's off with their heads, the proletariat argument being the defense cannot cover the pass and can't get enough pressure with three rushers. The former has enough examples to be a fair argument. The latter is rubbish, West Virginia, rushing at least four to five players on the vast majority of snaps, having risen to 20th in the country in sacks at 2.7 per contest after not recording one in the opening five games. Among the most mobile quarterbacks in the Big East in Pitt's Tyler Palko got dropped eight times. WVU got to Mississippi's Omarr Conner via a then-new cornerback rush. And the blitzes reached Louisville's Brian Brohm. But the players didn't wrap enough or take solid angles to ensure slight pocket movement would not blow up the sack attempt. In a game of inches, that's how far they were.
So what of very average coverage? It read here weeks ago that West Virginia might need more talent at cornerback, and that the staff was recruiting it. It gets those players, and the defense can be run the way it is supposed to be, which is true of many a style. It isn't as though defense coordinator Jeff Casteel doesn't recognize the weaknesses. So here it is, perhaps the truest of statements from any mentor this season, and an aspect that fans should realize:
"Again, we are not going to be a dominating defense," Casteel said. "We are not built for that right now. We are in the top 30 in nearly every ranking. We have 20 sacks, and it was front page news when we did not have any. But we have not shown the proficiency to get off the field on third down consistently. We have not shown the ability to defense the big play, which has bit us all year. If you can't do that, you can't be dominant. It's little things. The little things add up to big things on Saturdays. It's all football-related things. It's getting your feet under you when you are making tackles, not rounding your breaks, not keeping your hips down. All those fundamental things you have to be on top of during the week to make sure it doesn't bite you on Saturday."
In other words, it's inches. West Virginia, which allowed 17 points from Pitt's offense, shut it out in the second half. The reason: It played more aggressively and executed and finished plays. It certainly helped that Pitt was forced to be one-dimensional after West Virginia moved ahead by two scores by the end of the third quarter. But it wasn't anything major, as it has not been all year long.
"We didn't bring anything exotic," Casteel said. "I think things get portrayed a little differently than they are. The difference between making a play and not making a play is (inches). We didn't make any plays in the first half, and in the second half we did. The kids became more aggressive."
It is time to appreciate what this defense does, which is shut down the run unlike any other scheme West Virginia has had. As head coach Rich Rodriguez said, if a team commits enough players to anything, it can stop that dimension. WVU, however, is not getting gashed all game by lesser foes. When it got carved up, it was by arguably the best passing team in the nation in Louisville. Even then, the defense allowed 30 points, and some of those were with a very short field. Those clamoring for a change, answer this: What other defensive scheme in WVU history has stuffed the run as effectively? It wasn't the offense that won program-building games against Boston College, Virginia Tech and Pitt to end the 2002 season, then held a solid Wisconsin offense to 17 points in the 2003 opener.
It wasn't the offense as much as the defense that beat No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2003, shutting down a solid Hokie running game and allowing just seven points. And it wasn't on this defensive style when Boston College and Pitt combined for 52 points to record wins over West Virginia to end the 2004 season. The Eagles got 14 points off special teams, meaning the offense had the ball enough to manage three touchdowns. It just didn't. Pitt was held to 16 points, and its last score was questionable at best.
The 3-3-5 stops the run. That's the primary focus of any defense, and it does it better than any other scheme in the history of Mountaineer football. It is stout, and it has helped win a school-record number of games in the last five seasons. The problem might just be that West Virginians – as traditional a bunch as any sect anywhere – see three down linemen and don't like it. They see hybrid players and don't understand it. And they see a shifting, moving defense that runs to the ball well but lacks two true safeties in back of two corners and forces the linebackers to plug gaps to allow something called the bandit and spur to cover more effectively or make tackles. It's heretical, they say. Like ham on Thanksgiving.
"It's something new, something people don't see a lot," defensive lineman Keilen Dykes said. "You cannot win many games just throwing outs and passes like that. You have to run. If you don't, it's lights out."
There it is, the one thing this defense does that state natives relish in their stop corps, and the one thing, among others, that should be more appreciated for what it accomplishes for the defense overall.
"When you are getting the ball run on you, it's like they are taking your manhood," linebacker Jay Henry said. "It's a mentality. Your defensive goals are to play physical and stop the run. It's about being physical."
And taking their manhood instead. Which is what this scheme will continue to do – better than any other in West Virginia history.