MORGANTOWN - It wasn't all that long ago that West Virginia's defense needed only to be serviceable in order for the Mountaineers to win football games. Occasionally they were more than that, which was what elevated a few of those teams from good to great.
At the halfway point of West Virginia's 2010 season, it appears the opposite might be true. If the offense can elevate its game a bit, 5-1 at the midpoint could easily be 11-1 at the end.
That's how good West Virginia's defense seems to be headed toward being these days - as good as those overpowering offenses were.
We're talking about the Pat White-Steve Slaton days, when by themselves two years in a row they were combining for 400 rushing yards in Backyard Brawls. When even if there were hiccups with those two, Owen Schmitt would come to the rescue. Or Darius Reynaud.
Sure, it's a stretch to compare the two, if for no other reason than great defense simply isn't as sexy as great offense. But the impact can be the same. It's just as easy to imagine that opponents have little chance of beating the Mountaineers if they can't score points as it used to be to imagine they had no chance because they couldn't possibly score enough.
It was in those "old'' days of three or four or five years ago that the assumption was that West Virginia's defense need only be adequate in order for the team to win, and if it was exceptional there would be no doubt. Fast-forward to 2010 and if the offense can just put up a few touchdowns and field goals, the defense will take care of the rest. If that same offense ever becomes explosive against someone other than UNLV, watch out.
All of which begs today's question, which of course is: Will that offense ever become consistently effective?
It has certainly shown flashes, and we're talking about more than the combined 111 points scored against Coastal Carolina, Maryland and UNLV. West Virginia has also made some spectacular plays and put together some impressive drives even against the best competition it has faced.
It just hasn't happened enough.
There is no question that this group has the skill set to excel. It has, in fact, just about everything you could ever want in an offense.
It has small, quick playmakers in Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin, all of whom can run the football or catch short passes and make plays in space. It has steady, mid-range receiving threats in Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods. It now has a deep threat in Brad Starks. And if you want a power running game, try Ryan Clarke behind an offensive line that appears to be rounding into shape.