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WVU tackling biggest issue

West Virginia's Will Clarke (98) and Terence Garvin (28) tackle Marshall's Travon Van (7) during an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Christopher Jackson)

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Stacking up

How West Virginia's defense ranks nationally:

Category Rank

Total defense 117

Rushing defense 61

Passing defense 119

First-down defense 112

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 11:27 p.m.

In praising his team's next opponent, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen challenged his defense to tackle better entering Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game against James Madison at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

“They're sound in what they do, and they tackle well,” Holgorsen said of the 2-0 Dukes. “They've only missed 10 tackles in two games. I wish we could say that about our defense, but we can't at this point.”

What Holgorsen will say at this point is that his defense remains a work in progress.

No. 9 West Virginia (1-0) yielded 545 total yards in a 69-34 win over Marshall on Sept. 1. Holgorsen was pleased with his defense's overall play but felt it was lacking in certain areas.

Tackling, for instance.

“We'll have to tackle well. That's one of the things coming out of this (first) game, that we've got to do a better job of tackling,” said Holgorsen, whose offense ranks No. 2 nationally but is No. 117 defensively. “We missed too many tackles.”

Marshall converted nine of its 19 third downs, a fact that didn't please first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.

Deforest, hired away from Oklahoma State because of his familiarity with the Big 12, explained that 20 of the Mountaineers' top 30 defenders were playing for the first time.

“Defensively, we need to tackle better and get better on third down,” DeForest said. “If you tackle better on third down, you're probably getting off the field, which reduces the snaps, which reduces the yards. It always comes back to that. We lined up well, we played physical, we played fast and our first downs were great. We just didn't tackle very good on third down.”

A lack of experience may have contributed to missed assignments. As a precaution, the defensive staff has devoted a great deal of time to teaching since the Marshall game.

“We had some alignment issues with our linebackers lined up a yard more outside, then they wouldn't have a play,” DeForest said. “So it is just being disciplined in our alignments and our eyes. We watched the tape and made those corrections, and hopefully we get better this week. They say you make your biggest improvement from game one to game two.”

Among the adjustments is becoming more adept at pressuring the quarterback when rushing when only three players.

“I was excited when we did bring four guys,” defensive line coach Erik Slaughter said. “We have to improve when we bring three guys. That is part of our scheme — make the quarterback hold the ball with eight guys back.”

Junior safety Darwin Cook ranks among the Mountaineers' most experienced defenders. He started all 13 games last season and has been tabbed by the coaching staff to assume more of a leadership role this year.

“We are not in midseason form yet,” Cook said. “We haven't even scratched the surface of what we can be.”

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

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