In the last few weeks, there have been some rather harsh critics of the West Virginia Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel. Several fans have been down on the man for an under-performing defense that at times has seemed unable to get off the field.
But as I sit here contemplating just how much the defense had to overcome in tonight's dramatic 21-20 win over our arch-rival, the Pitt Panthers, I don't think a clearer statement can be made than this: Jeff Casteel is one of the nation's best at in-game adjustment, and it made all the difference tonight.
To put it in bald, statistical terms: Pitt first half yards: 216. Pitt second-half yards: 80.
Most impressive about the defensive effort is that several WVU miscues put the defense in precarious positions where it easily could have failed, resulting in a Pitt blowout win.
A terrible penalty call in the first quarter allowed Pitt to get new life after a missed field goal on 4th-and-6, but essentially the defense had earned that stop. Seven free points for the Panthers. A muff by Ishmael Banks (really just bad luck) set Pitt up at the WVU 33, but the defense held Pitt out of the endzone. Three more free points, though. Then coming out of the half, the Mountaineers forced a punt only to watch as Tavon Austin uncharacteristically muffed it at the Mountaineer 16. Three plays later Pitt had to settle for another field goal. Another three for free.
In the fourth quarter, Tyler Urban fumbled after making a first down reception, giving the Panthers the ball just across midfield. The end-result: a three-and-out, the fourth of four that the Mountaineer defense forced on the night. And finally, when Pitt got one last chance with the ball, a questionable fourth-down measurement gave the Panthers a first down that put them just 15 yards from a game-winning field goal attempt. The defense's response: a hurry, and back-to-back sacks to secure the win. In all, the Mountaineers, who entered the game with 16 sacks, sacked Tino Sunseri 10 times.
No one can disagree that this year's defensive squad is inferior to the 2010 edition, but like all of Casteel's crews, it has improved over the course of the season and it had a shining moment in what might be the last Backyard Brawl for a while. Hopefully, Casteel's detractors will give him some of the credit he rightfully deserves.