MORGANTOWN - A week ago, after Keith Tandy was beaten for a 96-yard touchdown pass in a win at Marshall, West Virginia secondary coach Dave Lockwood was a bit defensive on behalf of his junior cornerback when he was asked about the play.
"How many college football games did you watch this week?'' he asked a group of media when the subject came up. "Was he the only guy who got beat deep? No, of course not. It happens.''
True, but then the Mountaineers were beaten twice more the following weekend in a win over Maryland. It was sophomore Pat Miller, playing for the suspended Brandon Hogan, who was closest to both plays.
This time, though, Lockwood found it harder to rush to the defense of his cornerbacks. Oh, he certainly stands behind all of them, but he also understands as well as anyone that one long bomb can be an anomaly. Three in two weeks signal an issue.
But given the youth in West Virginia's secondary, perhaps it is for the best to be burned early, especially considering that in both instances the Mountaineers wound up winning the game.
"For a young DB, sometimes that has to happen to them before they wake up and smell the coffee,'' Lockwood said. "They have to realize how important the little things are.''
Hogan is a perfect case in point. Now an All-Big East cornerback and an NFL prospect, his indoctrination to playing cornerback came early in his sophomore season at East Carolina. He was beaten on both a crucial third-down play and later for a touchdown in a loss to the Pirates.
He bounced back, just as Lockwood hopes that Miller does.
"Exactly,'' Lockwood said. "You have to realize, those guys on the other side of the ball, they're good coaches, too. They look at a couple of guys in the back [of a defense] that haven't played too much, they're going to see what they're all about.''
And that is quite likely to continue until or unless West Virginia's cornerbacks prove that they are not punching bags for deep shots down the field. The No. 22 Mountaineers play No. 15 LSU in Baton Rouge Saturday night and, even though the Tigers have shown no inclination toward throwing the ball deep so far this season, expect them to take a few shots against West Virginia.
It's a lot like what the Mountaineers faced the last two years with a kickoff coverage team that time and again was burned for long returns. Even balls that were kicked deep into the end zone against teams without great return games were brought out because WVU had not shown them a reason not to.
"They're going to throw the ball down the field. I can tell you that as sure as I'm sitting here,'' Lockwood said. "We've given up [three] in two weeks. ... They'll max protect and throw the ball down the field. I would.''