Case For The Defense

When a defense yields 100 yards to a running back and another century mark to a receiver, it's often hard to classify that performance as excellent. However, that's just the adjective to apply to West Virginia's defensive effort in its 19-16 win over Pitt on Friday.

Pitt running back Dion Lewis rushed 26 times for 155 yards and receiver Jonathan Baldwin caught eight passes for 127 yards and a score, but neither was able to break the overall control that the Mountaineer defense imposed on the contest. WVU, showing the red zone resiliency that has marked it over the past couple of seasons, held the Panthers to field goals on three of their four trips inside the red zone, and turned away two other scoring chances by forcing missed field goals from long range.

In the run game, Lewis was able to get a few big runs, but none had the impact of Noel Devine's 88-yard jaunt.

"We had a lot of respect for him, he has the ability to show power and cut back, and we just wanted to swarm him and try to take away the cutback lane," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said following his team's gutty performance. "For the most part we did a nice job on that."

WVU's success against the run, especially in the first half, when the Panthers had just 31 yards on the ground, contributed to some of Pitt's woes in the passing attack. The lack of an effective running game kept one of the bread-and-butter staples of its game, the play-action pass series, from developing as it had in earlier contests.

"Their ability to run the ball sets up their throw game, and our kids did a good job of being able to control that," Casteel said "I think we had the ability to get them off track a little bit by taking away the run early in the game. They are a play action team, a boot team, a naked team, and all of that comes off their ability to run the football. That's where they were able to control the game last year. Our kids saw a lot of that film, and had two weeks to get ready to play."

Of the 50-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin, Casteel noted that the Panther standout, who is destined to play in the NFL, simply made a good player. Outside of that one highlight, however, WVU's defensive backs put up their finest performance of the season, picking off six passes and breaking up two more.

"Coach Lockwood and Coach Dunlap did a good job getting them prepared," Casteel noted. "You knew [Pitt was] going to take shots downfield, and they got one of them but the other times we were able to cut the route off and make plays."

In all, it was a team effort, with every member of the Mountaineer defense having an impact on the win. The fact that this game was the first time West Virginia has had its full complement of defenders on the field since September wasn't lost on Casteel either.

"We're beat up and we're not a real deep team, We haven't had our starting team since the first quarter of the second game this year, so we had the opportunity to heal up and play well."

Listen for more below from Casteel on the play of Robert Sands and the defense's ability to contain the Pitt offense.

Jeff Casteel - Windows Media

Jeff Casteel - MP3

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