2011 West Virginia Preview - Defense
West Virginia DE Bruce Irvin
West Virginia DE Bruce Irvin
Posted May 28, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineer Defense

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What you need to know: Jeff Casteel doesn't need attention from athletic directors to validate his standing in the coaching ranks. He gets plenty of well-deserved recognition for the work he does as the Mountaineer coordinator. One of the best in the business and the architect of the program's unique 3-3-5 stack, he continues to put forth a stingy and athletic defensive unit. His most recent version was one of his best, ranking in the top 10 in sacks, run defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Reprising that performance, however, will require replacing seven starters, five who earned All-Big East honors. If Casteel can handle that challenge, he ought to have his salary doubled. The cornerstones of the rebuilt D will be DE Bruce Irvin and DT Julian Miller up front, Najee Goode at linebacker, and CB Keith Tandy and SS Terence Garvin in the secondary. They're enough to keep West Virginia from getting soft, but a repeat of 2010's dominance isn't likely.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Terence Garvin, 76
Sacks: Bruce Irvin, 14
Interceptions: Keith Tandy, 6

Star of the defense: Senior DE Bruce Irvin
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Jorge Wright
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Doug Rigg
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Keith Tandy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Irvin, 2) Tandy, 3) Senior DT Julian Miller
Strength of the defense: The pass rush, run defense, limiting big plays, takeaways, athleticism, third down defense, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Nose tackle, linebacker, turnover in the secondary
Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Half of the defensive line that fueled a No. 2 national ranking in sacks and run defense is back in Morgantown for a final year. The lone departures, NT Chris Neild and DT Scooter Berry, however, will be missed. Both players provided an all-star, run-stuffing presence that'll need to be replaced in some form this fall. Pressuring the quarterback won't be a problem, but the run defense will be more vulnerable than the last couple of years.

About as fast as he gets around the edge, 6-3, 236-pound senior Bruce Irvin burst on to the scene in his debut out of Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Community College. Without a single start, he finished second in the country to Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers with 14 sacks, landing on the All-Big East team. Ready to become an every-down player, he needs to tap into his inner Von Miller, using his freakish athletic ability to become more than just a situational defender.

In order to fill the void at defensive tackle, 6-4, 259-pound senior Julian Miller is shifting inside from end. A two-year starter, he's No. 4 on the West Virginia career sack list, getting nine last season to go along with 54 tackles, 14 stops for loss, and three pass breakups. While not nearly as fast as Irvin, he possesses good quickness and get-off, and the long arms to obstruct the quarterback's vision.

The tall order of filling Neild's shoes belongs to 6-2, 281-pound Jorge Wright … if he earns his way back to the team. The junior was arrested and suspended indefinitely in early May. Though still undersized, he has added weight remains very quick off the snap. A reserve in the rotation in his first two years, he made 10 stops last season. His safety net will come from 6-1, 285-pound senior Josh Taylor, a former walk-on who has lettered the last two years and had 13 stops in 2010.

The staff has high hopes for 6-6, 260-pound sophomore Will Clarke, who's first in line to replace Irvin next year at defensive end. Hindered by an ankle injury, he played just four games last year, but has the frame and wingspan to begin emerging into a playmaker this year.

Watch Out For .... Miller to finally start getting the recognition he richly deserves. Seemingly always playing in a teammate's shadow, he has 31.5 career tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks, yet zero appearances on the All-Big East team. How does that happen? Even with Irvin making most of the headlines, Miller should finally earn his due before moving on to the NFL.
Strength: The pass rush. From the team that ranked second in the country in sacks, last year's two best pass rushers are back. Not only will Irvin and Miller torment opposing offensive lines, but Wright is sneaky quick, slicing through the gaps in the line.
Weakness: Proven depth. This was going to be a question mark no matter what, but really turned into a red flag after Wright got in hot water. Taylor being the exception, the Mountaineers are light on seasoned backups or players who've actually had to play a bunch of snaps week after week.
Outlook: While the pass rush should be every bit as good as last year, stopping the run will be a slightly bigger challenge for West Virginia. It's going to be difficult to replace Neild and Berry, and the situation with Wright only complicates things further. Opponents running right at West Virginia could have more success than in recent years.
Rating: 8


State of the Unit: For the second consecutive year, the Mountaineers have big holes that need to be plugged at linebacker. Two seasons ago, Reed Williams left a void, and now seniors J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard, and Pat Lazear have exhausted their eligibility. In their aftermath, just one player with starting experience remains on the roster.

The new leading man of the linebackers is 6-1, 239-pound senior Najee Goode , who's coming off his first season as a starter. After playing on the outside, he's moving to the middle, where his size and instincts against the run will be particularly valuable. Showing good range and closing speed in 2010, he had 47 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, three sacks, and four pass breakups.

The favorite at strongside is 6-1, 228-pound sophomore Doug Rigg, an impressive letterwinner in his first year on campus. An athletic and aggressive playmaker, he had 14 stops off the bench, displaying good range and an ability to make tackles in the open field.

The closest competition is taking place at weakside, where 6-1, 214-pound junior Josh Francis and 5-9, 222-pound senior Casey Vance will battle it out in the summer. Francis out grew the JUCO ranks while at Lackawanna (Penn.) College, making 95 tackles, 19 stops for loss, and 13 sacks to earn All-American honors. Vance is a plucky battler, who took four years of hard work before even earning a letter. Blue-collar to the core, he'll try to use his work ethic and years in the system to gain an edge.

Watch Out For .... Rigg to have a very successful debut in the starting lineup. He played in a ton of big games at the prep level, and got off to a fast start last fall. A quintessential West Virginia linebacker, he gets to the pile in a hurry and plays the game with the mindset of a skill position player.
Strength: Range. The linebackers are going to cover ground quickly, supporting both the pass rush and the run defense. By design, Goode, Rigg, and Francis aren't especially stout, but they close fast and can wreak havoc on the blitz for opposing quarterbacks.
Weakness: Weakside. Relatively speaking, this is the area with the most uncertainty, failing to produce a starter following spring. Now, Francis looks capable of turning this spot on the field into a strength, but until he actually gets on the field, the Mountaineers won't know exactly what it has at weakside.
Outlook: In order to replace the three graduating seniors, everyone will need to step up at linebacker. That means Goode has to play with more leadership, Rigg needs to embrace his promotion, and Francis must adapt to a much higher level of competition. It's a group that won't be as special in September as it could be in November.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Quite possibly the biggest area of concern heading into the 2011 season, West Virginia is looking to revamp a secondary that was among the stingiest in the country a year ago. There's a good foundation that includes two returning starters, but in a unit that employs five defensive backs, there's also a need for a bunch of new regulars to fill the slots in the two-deep.

Taking over as the team's top cornerback is 5-11, 200-pound senior Keith Tandy , who would have been drafted had he left school early. A terrific all-around player, he posted 57 tackles, six interceptions, and 11 passes defended in his second season as a starter. An obvious ball-hawk, with the hands of a receiver, he also has the size and ferocity to lower the boom like an agitated safety.

Leading the way at the other corner spot is 5-10, 185-pound junior Pat Miller , who was used sparingly on passing downs and made 20 tackles and four pass breakups. He struggled at times last year, needing to improve his coverage skills. He also need to step it up in order to fend off the challenges from 5-10, 184-pound sophomore Brodrick Jenkins and 5-11, 185-pound senior Brantwon Bowser .

The bellwether at safety is 6-3, 216-pound junior Terence Garvin, the team's rock at spur safety. Big and physical, he's begun to take on more of a leadership role this fall. He really took off in 2010, leading the Mountaineers with 76 tackles and adding 4.5 stops for loss and a pair of fumble recoveries. Built like an outside linebacker, he really turned the corner with his reads and tackling skills.

At free safety, 5-11, 198-pound senior Eain Smith is about to go from career spot-starter to an every-down player. A veteran of 38 games and nine starts, he chipped in 23 tackles on defense and special teams in 2010. Not lacking in punch, he also has the quickness to endure when the ball is in the air.

The least experienced of the projected starters is bandit safety Darwin Cook , a 5-11, 201-pound sophomore. The backup a year ago, he made nine tackles and appears set for a promotion. A terrific athlete, he also has the hands of a former receiver. Light on experience at safety, the top backups figure to be a pair of sophomores, 6-3, 214-pound SS Michael Dorsey and 6-2, 197-pound FS Travis Bell . Dorsey has a great future, a big-hitting athlete, who played in all 13 games and made seven tackles fresh out of high school.

Watch Out For .... Miller to get picked on … a lot. Opposing quarterbacks aren't stupid. They realize that attacking Tandy is the fastest way to get the hook. Instead, they'll test the ability of Miller, who's still young, unproven, and aware of the problems he had in coverage a year ago.
Strength: Ball skills. With Tandy leading the charge, the Mountaineer secondary is mostly comprised of very good athletes, who take good angles and cradle the ball when they get their hands on it. Even with the turnover in the ranks, West Virginia will be among the league leaders in takeaways.
Weakness: Corner … after Tandy. While Tandy has one side of the field covered, the other half is really going to miss current Carolina Panther Brandon Hogan. Part of the reason that the pass defense was so stingy last season is that the other team faced a pick-your-poison scenario. Beating the Mountaineers through the air won't be nearly as daunting in 2011.
Outlook: After peaking with a deep and gifted group of defensive backs, West Virginia is about to drift in reverse, but not too much. This is still a talented collection of defenders that'll be led by a pair of potential all-stars, Garvin and Tandy. Crackerjack passers will solve this unit, but how many of those are on the schedule?
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Mountaineers will be looking for a higher level of consistency and a new punter on special teams when they reconvene in the summer. The unit was mediocre a year ago, failing to properly support either the offense or the defense. Worse yet, it needs to develop new return men now that Jock Sanders and Brandon Hogan are no longer with the program.

While junior Tyler Bitancurt is in his third season as the placekicker, he regressed in his sophomore year. Fresh off an All-Big East first team debut, he was just 10-of-17 on field goal tries, getting four blocked and going 2-of-7 outside of 40 yards. He's shown limited range, but more important, needs to recapture the accuracy he had in 2009.

The favorite to become West Virginia's fourth new punter in four years is junior Corey Smith, a former Alabama transfer who handles kickoffs. Displaying good leg strength, he averaged 62.2 yards and had eight touchbacks.

While sophomore Brodrick Jenkins and senior Keith Tandy are expected to handle punts, junior Tavon Austin and senior Brad Starks will be the kick returners.

Watch Out For… Bitancurt's progress. He took a curious detour from consistency in 2010, lacking the confidence and the accuracy to build on his all-star debut. The potential is there for a quick rebound as long as he starts quickly and eliminates any thoughts of last fall's problems.
Strength: The coverage teams. This was the area that the Mountaineers made their greatest strides in 2010, getting downfield in a hurry and limiting big returns. West Virginia allowed 8.6 yards a punt return and 20.7 yards a kick return, respectable numbers compared to the prior season.
Weakness: Punter. Bitancurt has his own issues, but at least he has had some prior success. Smith, on the other hand, will be handling punting chores for the first time. Greg Pugnetti actually did a solid job in his only year on the job, a performance Smith hopes to reprise in the fall.
Outlook: The Mountaineers have too many question marks at this stage to feel confident about the special teams unit. Can Bitancurt regain his touch? How will Smith perform? Can the new return guys provide a spark? It could be one of the program's weakest links in 2011.
Rating: 6

- 2011 West Virginia Preview | 2011 West Virginia Offense
- 2011 West Virginia Defense | 2011 West Virginia Depth Chart
- West Virginia Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006