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WVU defense evolves into stingy unit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The West Virginia defense entered the season with a number of question marks on defense, with seven first-time starters.

A number of young, unproven players have stepped into bigger roles, and they're thriving.

"Right now, just playing with a lot of younger guys, we're seeing improvement," senior linebacker Najee Goode said.

West Virginia's defense is hitting its stride at the season's midpoint and looks to improve throughout Big East play.

"You can tell people are starting to feel better about the way the defense is playing right now, but you also see they still want to get better," said senior cornerback Keith Tandy, who has two interceptions.

The Mountaineers rank 18th nationally in total defense and own the Big East's top pass defense. It hasn't allowed a touchdown since Bowling Green's first offensive play two weeks ago.

Part of the success comes from the new starters integrating quickly and continuing to improve.

"You're seeing them learn and seeing them get more comfortable," Tandy said of the younger players.

Even with seven new starters, West Virginia is also developing depth behind its first-team players.

With sophomore linebacker Doug Rigg out with a broken wrist for the past two games, redshirt freshman Jewone Snow has played well. He got his second career start last week and had an 83-yard fumble return Saturday against Connecticut that swung the game's momentum.

Rigg is expected back next week against Syracuse, but that just gives West Virginia another linebacker to rotate.

"When we play teams like Cincinnati -- teams that throw the ball a lot and make you run from sideline to sideline every play -- it's good to have another guy come in and play a series for you," Goode said.

West Virginia's also starting to get more pressure on the quarterback. The Mountaineers racked up five sacks Saturday after recording just three through the first five games.

Part of the problem was playing teams that throw the ball quickly, but it's still a comforting feeling to consistently harass the quarterback.

Senior defensive tackle Julian Miller believes that sacks come in bunches, and he's excited that things are starting to click along the defensive line.

"It's almost something you can't put into words," said Miller, who has 1 12 sacks. "I can't give you the exact reason why (things are clicking). It's just something that happens. [Sacks] really do come in bunches."

During the bye week, West Virginia is focused on fine-tuning its mistakes from the first half of the season, but the emphasis remains the same. The Mountaineers still want to force turnovers, get to the quarterback and get off the field after third down.

As the defense continues to improve, its hoping to reach new heights.

"Toward the end of the season we probably want to reach our peak, especially if we go to a bowl game this year," Miller said. "That's one thing we want to work on through this bye week."

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