MORGANTOWN — For the final yr and alter, West Virginia soccer’s largest weak point has been its protection. In opposition to rival Pitt on Saturday, nonetheless, that very same protection turned out to be the Mountaineers’ best power.
In opposition to the Panthers, WVU’s much-maligned protection grabbed three interceptions, solely allowed 211 yards and saved the Panthers out of the endzone, solely surrendering a pair of discipline targets.
“We’ve been pretty criticized during the last year-and-a-half, particularly within the secondary, that we haven’t performed as nicely,” head coach Neal Brown mentioned after the sport. “ I’m blissful for these guys within the secondary. And I’m blissful for (safeties coach) Dontae Wright), defensive backs coach) ShaDon Brown and (defensive coordinator), Jordan Lesley, that they had a superb plan.
WVU gave up 262.3 passing yards per sport final yr and had been permitting 285.1 this season earlier than holding Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec to simply 81 yards on 8 of 20 passing.
“We knew coming into the sport that their quarterback wasn’t that good at his job or no matter,” mentioned cornerback Beanie Bishop, who grabbed the second of three Jurkovec picks within the sport. “Me, Anthony (Wilson), (Malachi) Ruffin, we had been all questioning who was going to be subsequent as a result of interceptions are available in bunches. We knew we had been due for one.”
The Mountaineers had simply 4 interceptions all of final season. The three on Saturday, from Bishop, security Aubrey Burks and cornerback Malachi Ruffin, already places WVU at 5 to this point this yr.
“We wished to make it powerful on the quarterback,” Brown mentioned. “Individuals are going to level and blame it on him, but it surely’s exhausting to throw the ball if you’ve obtained individuals in your face. That’s the simple selection for followers and critics a number of instances, that’s it’s obtained to be the quarterback. Effectively, there’s a number of stuff happening in entrance of that quarterback. We had been capable of get stress and we gave him a number of totally different protection seems to be.”
The sport didn’t open nicely for WVU’s protection as Pitt ran the ball 11 straight instances on its opening possession and drove 67 yards down the sphere earlier than stalling out on the three-yard line and settling for a discipline objective.
“We had been actually energized early within the sport,” Brown mentioned. “Typically our linebackers had been flowing too quick and so they had been hitting some hole runs. As soon as we settled down and performed actually good hole integrity, we felt like we’ve got a extremely good soccer group up entrance.”
The Panthers actually solely had one different sustained possession within the sport, a 57-yard march that resulted in a discipline objective simply earlier than halftime. Exterior of these two drives, Pitt solely had 67 yards on 35 performs.
“We knew we needed to play 4 quarters of soccer.,” Burks mentioned. “The protection simply needed to get our job completed and popping out on prime was a terrific feeling for us and for this state.”
Burks’s interception was a turning level early on. The Mountaineer offense had simply misplaced a fumble within the redzone, however Burks’s choose and return to the seven-yard line arrange backup quarterback Nicco Marchiol to throw a landing on the very subsequent play.
“Each alternative you get it’s a must to reap the benefits of, so I took benefit of the chance and tried to make one thing occur for our offense,’ Burks mentioned. “They completed off the remaining by placing factors on the board.
“I simply felt like I needed to do my job. Felt like I needed to make a giant play by doing my task. When the play got here to me I made it and I can inform that hyped our protection up.”
Burks was blissful the offense turned his interception into factors, however he admitted that he would have most popular to succeed in the endzone himself.
“I obtained tackled by the quarterback, I feel that’s fairly unhealthy,” he laughed. “I wished to attain actually unhealthy, however I used to be blissful the offense completed it off for me.”
Of Pitt’s six second-half offensive possessions, WVU’s protection compelled two punts, two turnovers on downs and two interceptions to shut out the low-scoring affair.
“A low-scoring sport simply means the group has to rely upon us,” Bishop mentioned. “Being on the market for the important moments and having the ability to put the sport away, we need to showcase our means that we are able to ship in shut video games.”
“I feel it’s the signal of a superb soccer group,” Brown added. “We’ve had confidence in that group. I don’t assume they’ve performed in addition to they may up till this sport, but it surely was large. This was a sport that was going to be received by working the soccer, stopping the run and by who may create takeaways. We had been capable of create takeaways and we had been capable of run the ball just a bit bit higher than them and we took benefit.”