WVU defense fades a bit down stretch
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ West Virginia’s defense, cruising along as the best in the nation most of the season, struggled late in the year.
Mountaineer defenders had different theories why after a 20-13 loss to No. 12 North Carolina in the Gator Bowl in which the Tar Heels gained 289 yards.
``We played against some very high-potent offenses at the end of the season,″ said cornerback Mike Logan. ``Virginia Tech came in and moved the ball on us. I don’t think Syracuse really moved the ball on us. I think they beat us more on special teams.
``Miami, we shut them down pretty good,″ Logan said. ``The only two teams that really moved on us were Virginia Tech and North Carolina. And they have two great offenses.″
Safety Charles Emanuel said it was easier early because other teams were not ready for a blitzing scheme WVU installed prior to the season.
``No one had film on us,″ Emanuel said. ``No one knew what we were running. But later in the season North Carolina had all the film in the world. So teams are smarter when they played against us.″
Before North Carolina’s win, No. 11 Virginia Tech shredded the Mountaineers for 365 yards and 31 points, while No. 23 Syracuse gained 252 yards and scored 30 points. West Virginia held No. 19 Miami to only 162 yards and 10 points, but Hurricanes starting quarterback Ryan Clement played that game in severe pain from a separated non-throwing shoulder.
North Carolina took control of WVU’s defense midway through the first half, going 90 yards for the game’s first score, an 18-yard touchdown pass from Oscar Davenport to wideout Octavius Barnes.
It was the longest drive of the season by a WVU opponent.
It also saw one of the biggest foulups by the Mountaineer defense: linebacker Elige Longino ended up covering the speedy Barnes when freshman cornerback Perlo Bastien apparently blew his coverage.
Late in the season, ``We started changing things up and putting in new packages,″ said safety Vann Washington. ``There was some uncertainty in certain situations. When that happens, that can really hurt us in our defense.″
After the Mountaineers pulled to 10-3 on a career-long 47-yard field goal by Jay Taylor with 2:24 left in the half, the defense faltered again.
West Virginia had hoped to shake up Davenport, in his first start because of an injury to all-Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback Chris Keldorf. But WVU’s defense didn’t faze Davenport on the ensuing drive. He hit two passes for 34 yards, then ran it in from 5 yards out to cap the 58-yard, five-play drive that took only 1:03.
By halftime, North Carolina had more than 200 yards total offense, a barrier only six of West Virginia’s previous 11 opponents were able to crack in an entire game.
Then, when West Virginia’s often sluggish offense erupted to quickly cut the deficit to 7, North Carolina went on a 65-yard march for a 20-yard, momentum-busting field goal.
On that drive, West Virginia’s defenders gave up 30 yards on personal fouls. Linebacker Bernard Russ taunted North Carolina running back Leon Johnson after a tackle and the Mountaineers’ defensive captain, Charles Emanuel, hit Davenport late.
``We made a lot of mistakes. We had a lot of personal fouls,″ said WVU All-America linebacker Canute Curtis. ``We gave them one touchdown. We ended up giving them 30 yards on one drive. And they played great.″