Defensive struggles hinder West Virginia’s ability to compete in the Big 12

Drew Lieberman

The golden years for West Virginia were from 2005 to 2007. Then-head coach Rich Rodriguez led his alma mater to three consecutive top 10 finishes and two BCS bowl appearances. The Mountaineers won 11 games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history, falling only five points short of a chance at the BCS title in 2007.

Rodriguez left the Mountaineers before the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, leaving Bill Stewart as the interim head coach. Under Stewart, the Mountaineers finished in the top 25 in both 2008 and 2009, and won the Big East title in 2010.

The next year, the team had some struggles and successes under new coach Dana Holgersen, but the biggest news was West Virginia moving to the Big 12 in 2012. The Mountaineers capped off 2011 with a Big East crown, and following their 70-33 rout over Clemson in the Orange Bowl, many believed they would be able to compete in a tougher conference.

Through the first five games of 2012, they did just that. The Mountaineers averaged 52 points per game, allowing them to overcome the 35 points they surrendered per contest. West Virginia outlasted Baylor 70-63 and escaped from Austin with a 48-45 victory, despite the best efforts of the largest crowd in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium history. After the win, West Virginia was No. 5 in the polls and quarterback Geno Smith was a Heisman frontrunner.

The following week, it all came crashing down. The Mountaineers suffered a shocking 49-14 defeat to Texas Tech before falling in their next four Big 12 contests. Over the five-game skid, the defense allowed 49.6 points per game, and let the opposing offenses break the 50-point barrier on three occasions. During its first seven Big 12 contests, the defense allowed nearly 51 points per game resulting in a 2-5 conference record.

So far in 2013, the Mountaineers’ defensive struggles continue. In Big 12 play, they’ve allowed 534.5 yards per game, including 454 against TCU last weekend — a Horned Frog season high. In their overtime win at TCU, they allowed 27 points to a team that entered averaging 14.2 points in Big 12 play. Over the past two years, in 15 Big 12 contests, West Virginia has allowed 39.9 points per game and nearly 510 yards total offense.

The Mountaineers have yet to show the ability to stop Big 12 offenses and that probably won’t change this weekend. Through those 15 contests, their defense continues to show that it doesn’t have the talent to compete in the Big 12. If the Longhorns show up and stick to their power run game, they will leave Morgantown undefeated in conference play.