West Virginia's Defense Should Keep Mountaineers Competitive This Season

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Jared Barber (33) celebrates after making a defensive stop against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Get shut out by Maryland one week, beat the preseason Big 12 favorite the next. 

Go figure, but such is the life for West Virginia these days. 

The Mountaineers leaned heavily on their defense to stun No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday, 30-21. The Cowboys were a 21-point favorite heading into the game, according to VegasInsider.com, but the OSU offense never got into a rhythm 

It wasn't like Oklahoma State didn't have their chances. The Pokes had 19 offensive possessions Saturday, but only three ended in points. Five resulted in three-and-outs, another three in turnovers, two in missed field goals and one ended on downs. In all, the Mountaineers defense forced 10 punts and allowed just three drives to go over six plays. 

All without the team's leading tackler in linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. 

Not a shabby turnaround for what was the worst defense WVU has ever fielded a year agoAnd against a team averaging 45 points a game, no less. 

Which, of course, begs the question: 

It was truly a remarkable effort by the Mountaineers one week after getting embarrassed by the Terps, though that loss shouldn't have been pinned on the defense at all. The WVU offense was unable to do anything last week. 

And since Ford Childress was hurt with a torn pectoral muscle, Clint Trickett became the third quarterback to start for West Virginia this season. 

The offense looked a little different with Trickett in the lineup on Saturday. The Florida State transfer threw the ball downfield more consistently than Childress or Paul Millard had in their starts, even if the results weren't always good. 

Trickett lacks arm strength and ended up playing most of the fourth quarter with an injured throwing shoulder. It was a gutsy performance by Trickett, without a doubt, but this is an offense that still struggles to sustain drives. Only three times did WVU drive more than 50 yards, and only once out of those three did the 'Eers score. 

With the offense still trying to find consistency (and with special teams not helping), it was up to the defense to make plays. Mountaineers defensive back Ishmael Banks picked J.W. Walsh's first interception of the day and took it 58 yards for a score. Darwin Cook later picked off Walsh in the fourth quarter to give WVU a field goal that would put the game all but officially out of reach. 

WVU stunned No. 11 OSU with a stingy defense.
WVU stunned No. 11 OSU with a stingy defense.Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma State couldn't run the ball, couldn't hold on to the ball and couldn't cut down on the penalties. Those are the kinds of breaks WVU needed to win a game like that. It's what WVU will continue to need if it's going to stay remotely competitive in the Big 12 this season.

The Mountaineers offense may jell in time, but Childress and Trickett are both hurt and none of West Virginia's three quarterbacks have been able to truly separate themselves from the other. There are so many different players rotating in to the offense for myriad reasons that it's difficult for this team to find any sort of chemistry on that side of the ball.

So, this is a team that will have to rely on its much-improved defense going forward. That may or may not mean a winning season or a bowl game appearance this year, but it should mean West Virginia should at least be in a position to have a fighting chance to win some games in a conference that lacks many elite teams.