Posted by Chip Patterson
West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has become a bit of an institution in Morgantown. His 3-3-5 defense has helped the Mountaineers have the top-ranked unit in the Big East three of the last four seasons. But just as the entire team suffered a break in continuity with the awkward promotion of coach Dana Holgorsen, the defense will face its own challenges only returning four starters from the 2010 unit that allowed 13.5 points per game (third best in the nation). But some of the pieces that Casteel does have back were (and will be) pivotal in the pass rush game. Senior Bruce Irvin came one sack short of Daquan Bowers' 15 to lead the nation, and he accomplished all that sharing snaps with fellow senior Julian Miller -- who added 9 sacks of his own. The Mountaineers had to say goodbye to all-conference defensive linemen Chris Neild and Scooter Berry, but Irvin seems confident the unit can repeat its pressure attack from 2010.
"This year, we'll be on the thinner side, but we'll be faster with more speed rushers," Irvin told the Charleston Daily Mail. "Hopefully Shaq [Rowell] got right and he and Jorge [Wright] can clog the holes up and Julian and I can do what we do"
Instead of sharing snaps, Miller has moved to the defensive tackle position and Irvin will be the starter at defensive end. Rowell (308 pounds) and Wright (281 pounds) definitely stack up on the lighter side of traditional nose tackles, so my guess is "got right" includes adding size and strength.
If the defense is best suited pressuring the passer, then it should benefit from an offense that has the potential to put up points quickly. West Virginia's most dangerous opposing offense will be one that can control the game by pounding the ball on the ground. Keeping the ball out of Geno Smith's hands and forcing an inexperienced linebacking to step up and make plays on the line are the best way to keep things close against West Virginia.
Unless Rowell "got right," in which case we could expect a typical conference-leading performance from Casteel's unit.