West Virginia's defense finally has its moment
A sense of relief filled West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest when Tavon Austin's 75-yard touchdown reception gave the Mountaineers a 31-24 lead at Iowa State.
But only for an instant.
More than six minutes remained in a game that WVU would eventually win by the same margin to snap a five-game losing streak.
“I thought we scored too quick,” said DeForest, before quickly adding, “Just joking.”
You couldn't blame DeForest for trying to maintain a happy face while hoping his defense wouldn't blow another late lead. After all, it's been that kind of season for the Mountaineers.
DeForest is well aware of his defense's history.
WVU (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) met with a different result in one-point losses to Oklahoma and TCU, but the Mountaineers — give or take a few tense moments — didn't repeat their previous mistakes against Iowa State.
Aided by two personal fouls against WVU — both times after the Mountaineers held on downs — Iowa State drove from its 35 to first-and-goal at the 7.
Instead of wilting, the Mountaineers defense finally took charge.
Running back Jeff Woody carried for 2 yards but Darwin Cook forced a fumble, which freshman Karl Joseph recovered in the end zone for a touchback, allowing DeForest to finally breathe easy.
“Our defense played really, really well. They knew they had to make a stop,” DeForest said. “That's part of playing defense, when you've got to make a stop to win the game.”
WVU's goal-line stand did wonders for the defense's confidence.
“That was going through everybody's head when we kept getting penalties and they drove down the field,” Joseph said. “Even with five (straight) losses, we never gave up. We kept fighting.”
Added Cook: “We've had a lot of things go wrong this year. But when the play is over, you've got to get ready for the next play.”
DeForest was pleased with Cook's and Joseph's ability to recover after the defense was burned for two touchdown passes.
In previous losses, WVU's defense couldn't recover from those mistakes.
Entering Saturday's regular-season finale against Kansas (1-10, 0-8), WVU's defense finally has a performance to build on.
“(Iowa State) did not do one thing differently,” DeForest said. “We practiced everything that they had done and we executed well 75 percent of the time. Then, just like in the past, we gave up some plays that we shouldn't give up based on pure technique.
“We've got to work on that. We're going to get better.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.