MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Fifteen years is a lot of time in football terms.
The current Mountaineer football players were in elementary school, at most, in the fall of 2005. WVU has gone through four head football coaches in that stretch, and Pat White wasn’t yet a twinkle in the eye of West Virginia fans at that point, though he soon would be.
It was the 2005 season opener, a defensive slugfest in the Carrier Dome when WVU prevailed over Syracuse 15-7.
The Orange managed just 103 yards that day against Jeff Casteel’s Mountaineer defense – 18 rushing yards and 85 passing. White got a few series at quarterback for WVU that day, accounting for 83 yards, but Adam Bednarik (176 yards) got a bulk of the QB snaps in leading West Virginia to the first victory in what ultimately would be an 11-1 season.
What was so significant about that 2005 opener inside the muggy Carrier Dome?
Until this Saturday, not much, other than it being an auspicious first step on the way to a Sugar Bowl trophy.
But when West Virginia’s current defense limited Kansas to just 157 yards of total offense – 62 rushing and 95 passing – a dive into WVU’s statistical archives carried all the way back to 2005 at Syracuse to find the last time a Mountaineer defense corralled a FBS opponent to fewer than 157 yards.
WVU actually held Towson to 122 yards of total offense (43 rushing and 80 passing) in 2014, but that stonewall performance was against a FCS foe, not one on the FBS level.
Obviously the 0-4 Jayhawks aren’t exactly a Big 12 power, but still combined with previous 2020 performances – 206 yards by Eastern Kentucky, 342 yards by Oklahoma State and 256 yards by Baylor – West Virginia’s defense has been pretty salty all season. In fact, its average of 240.2 yards allowed per game puts WVU’s D in second place in that category, just behind the 236.7 yards per game given up by Georgia’s defense prior to the Bulldogs’ showdown Saturday night with Alabama.
“Defensively we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said West Virginia’s coach Neal Brown, whose club improved to 3-1 with the win over KU. “Guys are flying around. It’s about effort and physicality. We’re getting multiple hats to the ball.
“Guys who are our best players are playing at a high level – Darius Stills, Tony Fields, Tykee Smith – those guys are playing at a high level.”
West Virginia finished Saturday with five sacks, 11 tackles for lost yardage and a pair of takeways, one of which was an impressive diving interception by its nose tackle, Darius Stills.
“One of the things that makes Darius special is he has great lateral movement,” Brown said of the senior defensive linemen from Fairmont, West Virginia, who was credited with three tackles, one for lost yardage, Saturday to go along with the INT.
“That was a heck of a catch,” continued Brown. “Here’s the thing, and this will be one of the points of emphasis for me in our team meeting Monday morning, is that was an effort play. The only reason that play happened is because he’s chasing the ball. If he just sits there after his pass rush and stops and doesn’t chase the ball, he doesn’t get that interception. But because he was doing what we asked him to do and playing as hard as he possibly can, chasing the ball, good things happened.”
“That’s one of those plays you see on the playground,” smiled WVU junior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo of Stills’ grab. “That’s a play 99% of the people in the country aren’t going to make, especially a defensive lineman. He laid out like a wide receiver for that.”
West Virginia’s defense held Kansas to not only just 157 yards of total offense but also allowed KU just seven first downs, as the Jayhawks converted just two of 13 third-down situations.
WVU’s defense really stingy in the second half. The Jayhawks managed only two first downs in the final 30 minutes, went three-and-out on four of their six possessions, totaled only 17 yards, with just three of those coming on the ground. Eleven of KU’s 23 plays in the second half went for no gain or negative yardage.
“We felt they weren’t going to get a yard on us. That’s just the swagger and confidence we play with,” stated Chandler-Semedo. “This type of game builds a lot of confidence.”
Chandler-Semedo led all WVU tacklers with nine stops. Sophomore safety Tykee Smith added eight tackles, and true freshman defensive end Akheem Mesidor not only had six tackles but recorded sacks on back-to-back plays.
“Defensive success starts up front, and our d-line is doing a nice job. Guys are winning one-on-one battles,” noted Brown. “Just like I said at the opening, our defense is playing with a lot of confidence, and it’s playing hard. When you do that, and bring that physical element too, you’re going to have success.”