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Mountain Strong

Devin Jones, MORGANTOWN -

Going into the football season fans were left with a mystery on both sides of the ball.


On offense, the question was who will replace Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Geno Smith? Defense was a different story. After giving up 495 points in 12 games, the Mountaineer faithful were left with hoping for a better performance this year.


The Mountaineer defense has been phenomenal in the first two games, allowing a total of 744 yards of offense and a combined 33 points. In Norman last Saturday, the Mountaineers were 28 point underdogs. Oklahoma may have won the game, but it was by a slim margin, 16-7. Coach Patterson credits his defense for their effort.


"The guys played hard," said Patterson. "We had 10 tackles for loss, 4 turnovers and we were successful getting them off the field. They only converted 5 times in 17 attempts."


The Mountaineer defense allowed just 119 yards through the air, but also surrendered 316 yards rushing. For Coach Patterson, the number doesn't represent how his defense played against the run.


"We only allowed 115 yards in the first 30 carries," said Patterson. "I think we did a good job to that point, but we gave up some cheap yardage late in the game."


To put the numbers into perspective, the West Virginia defense gave up 662 total yards of offense and 50 points a season ago against Oklahoma. A win may not be seen on the scoreboard, but this was a confidence builder for the unit going forward.


Team chemistry is a notable change to the roster this season. On the defense side of the ball, Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph have become close due to their competition for the safety position. Cook says that this had been good for both of them.


"We're like brothers," said Cook. "We have a close relationship. Competition against each other has made us both better players."


The players close friendship has also brought about nicknames.


"I'm the cookie monster, and he's crazy," said senior safety Darwin Cook.


The defense is having fun this year, and playing with a high level of confidence. Redshirt junior Ishmael Banks said that confidence is the biggest difference between the team a year ago and today.


The Mountaineers left Oklahoma Saturday night with a few players roughed up. Most notably was senior linebacker Doug Rigg. Fans were left speechless as Rigg was knocked out cold by fellow teammates Karl Joseph. For Darwin Cook, senior safety, the moment brought tears to his eyes.


"I got emotional when I saw him on the ground," said Cook. "When they were doing test on him, I started crying. But it was good to see him ok after the game."


After being cleared by doctors, Rigg was able to fly home with the team just hours later. He is day to day going into this week's game against Georgia State. Coach Holgorsen has also made some changes to the depth chart to make up for the injuries. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Kyle Rose and sophomore Eric Kinsey are expected to see playing time this weekend.


A difference in competition level is expected this Saturday when the Mountaineers take on the Panthers of Georgia State. In the Panthers first two games this season, the defensive efficiency has been poor, allowing 807 yards of offense and 73 points. This could play perfectly into the hands of a struggling Mountaineer offense. On offense, Georgia State has been productive, but poor at being efficient. The Panthers have 766 yards of offense and 35 points. Third down conversions has been a nightmare to this point, as the offense has been successful just 14 times in 33 attempts.


For the Mountaineers, these numbers are just statistics. Going into the game this weekend, they remain focused on the task of beating Georgia State. Ishmael Banks says that overlooking the Panthers isn't an option.


"We aren't gonna let our guard down," said Banks. "They would love to come in here and get an upset, but we won't let that happen."


The Mountaineer defense looks to continue their dominance Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.

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