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WVU defense sets main focus on turnovers

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By Josh Sickles
Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel doesn't have a good answer about whether generating turnovers is more about coaching or opportunity.

"If it was just coaching, we'd probably just say 'Hey guys, go get a fumble,' " he said.

Obviously, it's not that easy, but the West Virginia defense is simply hoping things will click.

The No. 22 Mountaineers are focused on creating more turnovers and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

West Virginia has generated just three turnovers in four games this season. All three were interceptions against Maryland and had a big impact — with one directly leading to a touchdown and another clinching the win.

However, on Saturday night, West Virginia lost the turnover battle against LSU, 4-0, and now, the defense is refocused.

"We've got to make plays on defense to get turnovers," coach Dana Holgorsen said.

West Virginia has forced six fumbles but hasn't been able to recover any. There's also been a number of tipped passes that have slipped through the fingers of defenders.

It's something the coaching staff has been stressing. At end of every practice, the defense works on stripping ball carriers and taking advantage of opportunities.

The Mountaineers feel like they're close to having the ball finally bounce their way.

"One thing we stress to our defense is to make plays on the ball — whether it's in the air or whether it's stripping them of the football," Holgorsen said. "They haven't done it yet. We've got three picks in four games, but we've got zero fumble recoveries. That's got to get better."

Pressuring the quarterback also needs to improve.

West Virginia's defense has struggled consistently getting to the quarterback. Senior defensive end Bruce Irvin has the team's only sack this season.

Just a year ago, Irvin and fellow senior Julian Miller combined for 23 sacks. There hasn't been a change in their demeanor or approach, but still, the sacks haven't come.

"If we had a magic button to say, 'Hey, you know what, we need you to get 10 sacks,' we probably would have pushed that by now," Casteel said.

Part of that has to do with playing faster-paced offenses that stress getting the ball out quickly. It's also clear that offensive lines are aware of Irvin and Miller's talents.

Still, this is hardly the production expected from a talented defensive line.

"I don't know what's going on," Holgorsen said. "We've got to keep working at it. Whatever the reasons are, they've got to overcome them."

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