Not desperately seeking sacks
MORGANTOWN - A week ago, it was about turnovers. This week, it's about sacks.
As well as West Virginia's defense has played at times this season - save for a span in the second half of last week's 37-31 win at Maryland - there always seem to be questions about some aspect of the Mountaineers' game.
Through the first two games, the defense forced zero turnovers. Against the Terps, they got three on interceptions and forced a fumble that they couldn't recover.
But now through three games, West Virginia has exactly one sack. And this from a team that has perhaps one of the best 1-2 pass-rush combos around. Bruce Irvin was second in the country in sacks a year ago. Julian Miller is the active career leader in that category in the Big East.
And they have one sack?
"At my point in my career, I don't worry a lot about [stats] like that,'' Miller said. "As long as the defense is doing what we're supposed to be doing and making plays and flying around, that's what matters.''
Indeed, the defense has done that for the most part. The numbers aren't as gaudy as years' past - WVU ranks 40th in the country in total defense and scoring defense - but there have been only a few major glitches.
Yet there are still almost no sacks from a team that was expected to do that as well as anything else on defense.
"Last week everybody - coach [Dana] Holgorsen and the defensive coaches, too - kept saying we had to get turnovers. They drilled that into us,'' Miller said. "And we did. That's one of those things that come along with more work and more repetitions. And sacks are going to come, too.''
Oddly enough, they could begin to come this week against without question the best team the Mountaineers have faced, No. 2 LSU. It's just a matter of styles.
"It's been hard,'' Irvin said. "The first three games have been quick screens and three-step drops. You can't really get sacks on three-step drops. I don't even think Superman can do that.''
LSU, though, is unlike any of those first three opponents where style is concerned. Yes, quarterback Jarrett Lee is likely being coached to get rid of the ball quicker this week against the Mountaineers, but that's not a part of the usual game plan. The Tigers are generally more methodical in the way they run offense.
Had any of WVU's first three opponents run that type of offensive scheme, those sacks would likely have been there because Irvin and Miller have gotten plenty of near-miss knockdowns.
"We knew going in that Maryland didn't hang onto the ball very [long]. In that first game, they threw about 95 percent of their passes to where the ball was out of the quarterback's hands before the D-line even had a chance to get there if they weren't blocked,'' Holgorsen said. "Maryland does a good job of that. They're a lot like we are on offense.
"When those situations arise where the quarterback has to hang on to it, we just have to do a better job. We feel like we've got a couple of guys who know how to rush the passer. It's just about taking advantage of the opportunities when you get them.''
A year ago in a 20-14 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, West Virginia sacked then-quarterback Jordan Jefferson twice. And Lee is less mobile than Jefferson.
"We have the same defense, the same structure we had last year,'' Miller said. "So the way we feel is why can't we play the same way we played last year? That's what everybody is trying to emphasize. We played well against these guys last year and we can do the same thing this year.''
If West Virginia is able to get to Lee, that would be huge for the Mountaineers. Lee is not a runner, having done that just once this season for a gain of two yards. But he's only been sacked three times.
"The sacks are going to come,'' Miller said.
Until then, Irvin and the rest of the pass rushers are making do.
"It's very frustrating, being a second or a step away from getting them just as they release the ball,'' Irvin said. "It's frustrating, but you just have to keep pushing - keep the motor running and keep driving. They're going to come. And when they come, they're going to keep coming.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734or firstname.lastname@example.org.