LAWRENCE, Kan. - From a purely statistical point of view, it's difficult to praise just about anything West Virginia's defense has done of late.
Consider the last five games, for instance. Over that span the Mountaineers have surrendered 219 points, an average of 43.8 per game. Last year's historically inept defense gave up just 39.5 points per game. Granted 43.8 isn't as bad as the 49.6 average WVU surrendered during last year's five-game losing streak, but it's not encouraging, either.
Perhaps this is, however.
"For 12 series against Texas,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, "they played as well as they possibly could have played.''
Indeed, for those 12 series and for many more this season, West Virginia's defense has proven itself far superior to the group that was among the worst in college football last season. That 2012 defense never had a chance and seldom was even competitive. It was arguably the worst the school has ever produced. Only two teams in the country gave up more passing yards and only six surrendered more points.
The rankings this season, in truth, aren't a lot better. West Virginia is No. 114 in pass defense, 100th in total defense and 91st in scoring defense. But there is certainly a different feel to the defense and far more confidence.
"You try not to look at the scoreboard,'' defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "We just go out there and we try to play. [Last week in a 47-40 loss to Texas] we got off the field pretty well in the first half. We didn't get off the field very well on third down in the second half, and it showed. That's what displayed on the scoreboard.''
Consider, though, the predicaments West Virginia's offense thrust upon the defense. Texas' first four scoring drives covered a total of 29 yards - 7, 27, minus-1 and minus 4. All came after WVU's offense turned the ball over.
Three of those four times, the defense managed to hold Texas to field goals.
"We put them in as bad a situation as you could with our ball security issues and problems at quarterback,'' Holgorsen said. "With that said, they played phenomenal. They gave up 13 points in two and a half quarters.
"But if you want to be a great defense, that has to continue. You can't have four straight series where they complete third-and-long plays, run right past you and score.''
That's just what happened in the second half, just as it has happened routinely in the second half of the last four games. West Virginia's defense will play phenomenally for a half or more and then play well on first and second downs in the second half, too. But then Texas or Kansas State or TCU, or whoever it might be, begins converting third-and-impossible or fourth-and-a-prayer and it all comes apart.