Searching for answers
MORGANTOWN - There was but one consolation for Joe DeForest Saturday afternoon after watching his West Virginia defense torched for 700 yards and 63 points. Of course, it was a big consolation.
Baylor's defense was even worse, giving up 807 yards and 70 points.
Still, after West Virginia's 70-63 win over the Bears, there was little joy on the defensive side for the Mountaineers, and with good reason. With a game against No. 11 Texas on the horizon - Saturday night in Austin in a game to be nationally televised on Fox - DeForest understands completely the ramifications of not improving by leaps and bounds in the short time afforded him.
He also knows exactly where to place the blame.
"I did a poor job of preparing them and I did a poor job of calling the game,'' West Virginia's rookie defensive coordinator said. "It all falls on me.''
Well, perhaps. After all, no West Virginia defense in more than 100 years of football ever surrendered the kind of numbers the Mountaineers did to Baylor. The Bears got 581 of those 700 yards through the air. Wide receiver Terrance Williams watched WVU's Stedman Bailey catch 13 passes for 303 yards and managed to one-up him with 17 catches and 314 yards. Baylor had the ball 14 times and punted just twice. Were it not for two missed field goals, the Bears would have scored on 11 of 14 possessions.
Sure, Geno Smith's 656-yard, eight-touchdown passing performance rendered those Baylor numbers moot as far as the final score is concerned, but he can't be expected to throw eight touchdowns every week.
"We'll go back and we'll look at the film,'' DeForest said, repeating what he would have said had his defense given up even half as many yards and points. "We'll make some personnel changes. We'll make some changes to the way we play.''
Oddly enough, the thing that concerned West Virginia's defensive coaches most heading into the game with fast-paced Baylor wasn't an issue. The concern was that Baylor might be able to catch WVU out of position and take advantage of that, much the way West Virginia's offense does to opponents.
"The one thing that we talked about was just getting lined up. And we did that,'' DeForest said. "We didn't want to get tempoed and we didn't. That's the one thing that we can take out of this as a success. But once you get lined up, you've got to make a play.''
Ah, that's where the failings were. Time and again, West Virginia defenders were burned by wide-open receivers, be they in the middle on slants and posts or on deep routes. And when they did have things covered to the point where they could at least make a tackle, they missed the tackles.
All of which left DeForest at a loss.
"What do you do? If you've got an answer, tell me,'' DeForest said. "Ultimately we have to be better at tackling, at playing the ball in the air and executing what's called.
"They never outschemed us. There was never a point where we said, 'Holy ... we didn't cover that [in practice].' They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They ran four routes and they ran four runs. And that's it.
"But apparently we did a poor job as a coaching staff of being able to stop those four passes and four runs. And if we're going to contend in this league, we've got to fix it.''
It would behoove the Mountaineers to do so before Saturday. Texas isn't as explosive as Baylor, but the Longhorns are far more balanced, averaging nearly 500 yards and 47 points while running and passing with equal effectiveness. Texas is No. 19 in the country in rushing and No. 4 in passing efficiency.
For the record, West Virginia is now No. 118 (out of 120 teams) in pass defense and No. 106 in total defense. But the Mountaineers are also 4-0.
"A win's a win. We won the game,'' DeForest said. "You know how hard that is? They had won nine straight games. That's the No. 1 offense in the country. Am I happy about [the performance]? Absolutely not. But you know what? We won. We're 4-0. They're not.
"It's hard to take as a defensive coach, very hard. But maybe this will make us better. We're going to make some corrections.''
Well, it might make the Mountaineers better if they aren't shell-shocked, that is. DeForest talked about making personnel changes, but he made very few during the game, save for normal rotation of players.
"We didn't want to. We wanted to build these guys' confidence,'' DeForest said. "As soon as you pull a guy he loses confidence. And then if you need him later on ... There's a fine line between pulling a guy and not pulling a guy.''
Perhaps the only encouraging aspect of the defensive performance was that it can't get worse. And, too, it is in the first year with new schemes and new coaches. Remember the transition WVU's offense went through under those circumstances? As late as the last regular-season game of 2011, West Virginia's offense generated exactly one touchdown in a game at South Florida.
"Look at our offense here last year. It was a work in progress and they got better,'' DeForest said. "Well, we need to get better, obviously, or else it's going to be a long year.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.