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West Virginia defense among worst in nation

Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett catches a pass in front of West Virginia safety K.J. Dillon on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, at Milan Puskar Stadium.

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By the numbers

Here's where West Virginia ranks in four major defensive categories in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision:

Stat Rank

Pass defense 120th

Rushing defense 40th

Scoring defense 115th

Total defense 113th

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 11:10 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There are 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which explains the West Virginia coaching staff's frustration with the Mountaineers' struggling defense.

WVU ranks No. 120 in passing defense, No. 115 in scoring defense, No. 113 in total defense, No. 113 in third-down defense and No. 97 in red zone defense.

“I'm embarrassed,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said Saturday after WVU's 55-14 loss to Kansas State, which scored on its first eight possessions. “This is not how West Virginia defense is played. They were built on defense.”

WVU scores 41.1 points per game, but its defense yields 39.9. Big 12 opponents are averaging 53.0 points against the Mountaineers.

“What do you want me to change?” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We played somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30 players on defense (against Kansas State). They are what we got.”

West Virginia's highest ranking in the major defensive categories is No. 40 in rushing defense, which is deceiving considering its opponents' success in the passing game.

Only four teams have more total passing yards than WVU's 2,464. But the Mountaineers' defense has yielded 2,521.

“We've tried everything,” DeForest said. “Maybe that's our fault as a staff. We've tried to cover up our deficiencies. Then we tried to do other things to give them the ability to mix it up. We're searching right now.”

Of the approximately 30 defensive players who saw action against Kansas State, Holgorsen said nearly one-third were freshmen.

“I looked out there on several different occasions and saw eight or nine freshmen out there,” Holgorsen said.

Added DeForest: “We're just trying to find a guy to make a play.”

When West Virginia faces TCU on Nov. 3, DeForest promises a simpler scheme to help younger players. But a simpler defensive look also could make it easier for opponents.

At this point, the coaching staff may be willing to try anything.

“It's our job as coaches to get them to understand,” DeForest said. “If that means going out there in one front and one coverage ... we're going to play this front and this coverage until you get it right. Then we'll move on to the next one.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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