Defense returns to form

Without question, the most maligned unit during WVU’s 7-6 campaign a year ago was the defense.

Mountaineer fans, who had become accustomed to Top 20 or even Top 10 ranked prevent units over the past two decades, were left in shock following a season that saw the defense surrender 38 points and 480 yards per outing.

Time and time again, an offense that featured three of the most explosive players to ever wear the old gold and blue was forced to score on nearly every possession just to keep the game close.

If the offense had an off night -which occurred in blowout losses at Texas Tech and at home against Kansas State – then the results were lopsided losses that sent WVU reeling out of the Top 5 and, eventually, out of the Top 25.

Saturday’s 16-7 road loss to Oklahoma was a loss, but Mountaineer faithful witnessed a defensive effort that reminded them of years past.

“I never thought we were out of the game,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The defense continued to make big plays all game long. We didn’t do a good job of managing our timeouts or taking advantage of the opportunities our defense gave us.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the offense will continue to improve with the development of junior quarterback Paul Millard, who apparently has separated himself from former Florida State signal-caller Clint Trickett, senior running back Charles Sims and a wide receiver corps that has some talented pass catchers in Kevin White, Dakiel Shorts and Ronald Carswell.

Special teams continues to be a concern as a roughing the punter penalty resulted in a 44-yard Mike Hunnicutt field goal while a muffed punt was turned into a go-ahead, 1-yard scoring pass from Trevor Knight to Trey Millard.

Other than those two glaring miscues, the units played well as punter Nick O’Toole averaged 45.3 yards per punt with three pinning the Sooners inside their own 20 yard line while Parkersburg South’s Michael Molinari averaged 64 yards per kickoff with his final boot sailing well past the back of the end zone.

The questions surrounding this week’s first-ever encounter with FBS newcomer Georgia State will revolve around the health of the defense following a physical pounding by the OU offensive line, the disappearance of Trickett from the quarterback battle, and a Sports Illustrated story that connects former OU assistant coach Joe DeForest – now special teams coordinator for WVU – with possible NCAA infractions that occurred in Norman during the 2007 season.

If the son of former WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett is to place his name back in the battle for the starting QB job, then the junior will have to see more than the six snaps he saw during a 24-17 opening season win over William and Mary.

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