West Virginia is supposed to be a dangerous team on offense with head coach Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, but the Mountaineers are starting to put together the kind of defense that can make them a real threat in the Big 12. The Mountaineers currently lead the nation ins scoring defense by allowing just 7.7 points per game. Of course, this is a small sample size with just three games and those games being played against Georgia Southern, Liberty and a struggling Maryland program, but it would appear West Virgina’s defense is locked in as the Mountaineers get set to open Big 12 play at Oklahoma this week.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who also handles the linebacker coaching responsibilities, has built off what was a successful step forward a season ago with the defense. Together with senior associate head coach Tom Bradley, Gibson helped turn West Virginia’s defense from a laughing-stock well behind the level needed to slow down offenses in the Big 12 into one of the more improved units in the conference. West Virginia ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total defense in 2013, allowing an average of 454.3 yards per game and beating out only Iowa State in the statistical category. In 2014 West Virginia trimmed that average down by about 55 yards per game. To illustrate that a little more, West Virginia allowed a total of 2,292 yards to opposing offense sin 12 games played in 2013. In 2014, with a 13th game coming in the bowl season, West Virginia allowed a total of 2,186 yards. That is 106 fewer yards allowed in one extra game in 2014 compared to the previous season.
Bradley has moved on to become the defensive coordinator at UCLA, where the Bruins are doing some good things of their own, but Gibson has continued to coach the defense well. West Virginia has allowed just one rushing touchdown, has intercepted nine passes (Five different West Virginia players intercepted a pass against Maryland). Turnovers early on have been a noticeable difference for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has a nation-leading +9 turnover margin after ranking 122nd in 2014 with a -15. The Maryland game was the second time this early in the season the Mountaineers recorded four interceptions in a game.
Is West Virginia now equipped to make some interesting things happen in the Big 12? We will get a better idea of that this week when West Virginia visits the Sooners. Oklahoma is coming off a bye week following its win against Tulsa two weeks ago. Oklahoma won last year’s meeting with West Virginia in Morgantown, 45-33. The winner here could end up putting TCU and Baylor on notice.