Sands of Time

The Mountaineer defenders used the Colorado game a season ago as a springboard, turning a corner after a shaky first two games and ultimately becoming a solid unit. One WVU safety sees the potential for a similar story to play out when CU visits Morgantown for Thursday night's contest.

"I think this game is going to be a pretty good one," said Robert Sands. "We're going to go for a goose egg. We're going to try to shut them out."

"That's what I want us to do and some other guys on the defense feel the same way. We want to shut a team out and show we are a good defense, and that the 40 points the other team scored on us was a mistake."

Indeed, despite coming into 2009 with a lot of hype due to the fact that nearly all of the key contributors from the previous season, the West Virginia defense has struggled at times thus far.

Coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 alignment allowed 20 points to an FCS team in Liberty, then allowed 20 more to East Carolina before Auburn lit up the scoreboard for 41 points in WVU's last outing.

Of course, not all of those points have been the fault of the defense.

Special teams units struggled early in the season with both poor kick coverage and failing to cleanly field punts.

Sands' teammates on offense had a rough outing against Auburn, turning the ball over six times. One of Jarrett Brown's interceptions was returned for a touchdown, helping the Tigers score more points than any WVU opponent had since a 2006 loss at Louisville.

Those issues may help explain why Sands and company are ranked No. 35 nationally in total defense, but are No. 83 in the area that counts most -- scoring defense.

Still, the sophomore said that things may change with linebacker Reed Williams returning to the lineup this week after missing the Auburn game due to injury.

"Not to take anything away from the players who were in there last week, but it's just a different vibe with Reed in the middle," Sands said. "He's Kobe and (defensive lineman Chris) Neild is Shaq. With them both in together, there's nothing we can't do."

Sands was considered a sure bet to start at the free safety slot before the season started, but teammate Eain Smith has started the first three games in that position.

Sands said that he "got into a little trouble" off the field before the start of the season, but declined to elaborate. He said that the coaching staff gave Smith the opportunity to start as a result.

"It might end up being a temporary thing," Sands said of his role as the backup. "(Smith) is playing pretty good. I guess I've got to do something extraordinary when I get in there to get my starting spot back."

"He's been getting the (first-team) reps. I just go in on the third series and do what I can while I'm in there."

The Carol City, Fla., native said that he feels he is playing better football thus far in 2009 than he did while starting as a true freshman last year. A bit of success early in the season has helped him maintain his confidence despite being relegated to the backup role.

"I'm reacting a lot faster," Sands said, smiling. "Everything is coming pretty easy for me, so I think I'm playing better. I got a pick (against Liberty), so obviously the season is better already."

That confidence may help this week against a Colorado team that likes to air the ball out.

Buffaloes' quarterback Cody Hawkins, the son of head coach Dan Hawkins, has long been schooled in the offense that brought the coach success at Boise State before he took the job in Boulder.

Still, CU has been an enigma thus far this season, losing in embarrassing fashion to in-state rival Colorado State at home before giving up 54 points on the road in another defeat at Toledo.

The team rebounded with a shutout victory over Wyoming. Sands said in his time watching film of Colorado over the past week and a half that he believes the younger Hawkins likes to zero in on one of his receivers often.

"No. 21 (Scotty McKnight), his favorite target, was pretty much his favorite target last year," Sands said of the receiver who had 114 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches in the Toledo loss.

"You've just got to be able to manage the speed of the receivers they have and the shiftiness of all of them, too."

Still, the safety expressed confidence at the ability of the Mountaineer defense to handle the aerial threat posed by the Buffaloes.

"He is a good receiver, but we know 21 is the go-to guy, so we'll be keeping a close eye on him. It's not to take anything from the other receivers, but we know who their main target is."

"I think we'll deal with that pretty well."


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