MORGANTOWN - In many ways it's hard to fault West Virginia's defense for the way the Mountaineers' season is going.
Yes, there have been some eye-popping scoring totals posted by WVU opponents this season, some of which haven't been seen in decades.
How then, to explain this: A season after finishing third in the country in total defense and losing seven starters to graduation, West Virginia has slipped only to No. 23 in total defense this season. That's still better than 97 other FBS schools across the country.
The Mountaineers aren't giving up a ton of yards. Opponents are averaging just 332 per game. More than half the teams in the current Associated Press Top 25 surrender more yards per game. That includes No. 23 Cincinnati, WVU's opponent Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Only a handful, though, give up more than the 27.4 points per game WVU is allowing opponents.
Why so many points and yet so few yards? Well, some of the biggest points allowed by WVU this season weren't allowed by the defense. Both LSU and Syracuse scored momentum-changing touchdowns on kickoff returns. Louisville essentially won last week's game because of a blocked field goal return for a score. Marshall ran back a punt, although that one didn't really matter.
But more than anything, WVU's defense has been put into awful positions, both by the team's offense and special teams.
On offense, the Mountaineers have turned the ball over only 14 times this season, which isn't terrible. It ranks 44th in the country, well in the top half.
But of those 14 turnovers, eight have come in WVU territory and two others at the 50-yard line. Opposing offenses, be it due to turnovers or other factors, have not had to work very hard for a lot of their points.
Still, no one wants to make excuses.
"That's part of the game,'' defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "The bottom line is no matter where you go out and play defense you've got to do a good job. The kids understand that. We just haven't been consistent doing the things we need to do.''