Defense Tough When Needed, Keys WVU Victory - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Defense Tough When Needed, Keys WVU Victory

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MORGANTOWN -

If the WVU defense needed any extra motivation to come out and stymy the Pittsburgh offensive attack, the Panthers themselves apparently provided it.

"One thing we actually heard [was] their o-line called our line up front soft," says senior defensive end Julian Miller.
"We took it personal and that's just one thing we came into the game knowing was that those guys came out, thought they could power us and we just wanted to show them we're better than them."

Whether it had anything to do with the bulletin board material or if it was just a combination of the Backyard Brawl and senior night emotions, the defensive line put together its strongest effort of the year.

A unit that has struggled at times to reach the quarterback put Tino Sunseri on his back 10 times through the course of the game, with Julian Miller posting four of them.

It was a career-high for the senior and tied the WVU record for most in a single game.

"I pretty much sat back and watched what the defensive line did and play off them because it's hard to block them in general," says linebacker Najee Goode. "When those guys get to Sunseri and fluster him, it's pretty easy to play our game."

The performance was dominant, but even from his vantage point on the sideline, Dana Holgorsen wasn't aware of just how overwhelming the pressure had been up front.

"We had 10 sacks? Really?" he asked in his press conference. "That's a lot. I'd like to know who had all these sacks. Julian Miller had four sacks. I'd say that's above average."

Pitt head coach Todd Graham wasn't the person who Miller heard calling him soft, but it seemed evident in his postgame remarks that he didn't anticipate a strong game from WVU's defensive line.

He said it puzzled him. It clearly puzzled his offensive line.

"We sat there and we took one right after another," said Graham. "They executed and we didn't."

Soft may be the wrong word, but throughout Big East play, the WVU defense has looked like a revolving door at times. Opposing offenses have posted some of their best numbers of the season and points came by the bunches.

Early in this one, it looked as though the same script may be followed.

After committing a penalty on a missed field goal to keep the Panthers' opening drive alive, the Mountaineers failed to protect their end zone. A 7-0 start turned into a two-touchdown deficit for West Virginia, but that's when the defense got back to its old bend, but don't break ways.

Muffed punts following defensive stands resulted in the defense marching right back onto the field for another go at it. Each time, they stood strong, holding Pitt to field goals.

In a one-point game, those stops made all the difference.

"That's something that we pride ourselves on and definitely feed off of ourselves," says Miller. "It's just another challenge for us. Get a good stop like we did those two times and they kick field goals, we're pumped up after that."

Pitt's longest drive of the second half was just 23 yards, and that was after it had gone down by one point and was fighting for every yard it could muster. But West Virginia held.

It may be a sign of things to come or may have just been the right matchup. Suffocating defensive efforts have occurred this season, but never with any real consistency. There have been more head scratching moments than celebratory for the Mountaineers.

But if it was going to happen, this certainly was the right stage for it.

"I'm so proud of those guys, the way we went out and fought," says Miller. "We knew we had it in us all year, we've kind of been a second half team. The way we went out and played in that second half was lights out. It's a defense that coming into the season, we expected and we knew that we could play all year long."

On Friday, it sparked the Mountaineers to victory.

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