MORGANTOWN - For anyone who was unsure, Jeff Casteel isn't sitting back these days wondering the same thing West Virginia's fans are wondering, namely how much better this Mountaineer football team might be if the offense was even close to being as productive as the defense.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Casteel's accepting his fair share of the blame.
True, the veteran defensive coordinator knows his group has played pretty well this season. The numbers back up that assertion, too. West Virginia is No. 4 in the country in total defense, No. 5 in scoring defense and No. 6 in pass defense. His run defense, despite some breakdowns the last two weeks, is No. 10 and the Mountaineers are even No. 12 in sacks after starting the season with none the first two games.
Compare that to West Virginia's offensive numbers - in the bottom half of the country in almost every area and 92nd in turnovers after seven the last two weeks - and Casteel's crew is positively a bunch of knights in shining armor.
Here's one of the things that nags at Casteel, though: West Virginia is losing games because its offense is turning the ball over, but his defense should be making up for that by forcing turnovers.
"The thing that we were never able to do was get the field turned with a turnover,'' Casteel said, referring specifically to last week's 16-13 overtime loss at Connecticut, but alluding to the same problem a week earlier in a home loss to Syracuse. "And that, I think, became the difference in the game. They made some plays and we didn't make any of the big plays you need to do.''
Indeed, there is more to West Virginia's turnover problems the last two weeks than the three interceptions against Syracuse and the four lost fumbles at UConn. That's an awful total of seven giveaways, but it could have been mitigated somewhat had the turnover margin not been 7-1. The Mountaineers have forced only one turnover in the last two games and that one - a fumble recovery at the Syracuse 34-yard line - was rendered irrelevant when Geno Smith threw an interception in the end zone a few plays later.
And the defense didn't even cause that one fumble. It came on a kickoff return.
So a WVU defense that had played a part in a 5-0 turnover margin in the previous two games is now on the bad end of an 0-7 margin the last two weeks if you throw out that special-teams takeaway.