NORMAN — For all the hype surrounding West Virginia's inaugural Big 12 season — the prolific Dana Holgorsen offense, Geno Smith's Heisman candidacy, etc. — there were always questions about the Mountaineers' defense.
Even some close to the program had concerns about the defense's capability to slow the unfamiliar, high-powered offenses it would face in its new conference.
“I anticipated some struggle,” said Dwight Wallace, a former West Virginia assistant coach, now in his 13th season as the Mountaineer Sports Network football radio analyst.
“We knew we were young and didn't have a lot of leadership, and the second thing was depth. ... I think you compound that by going into a new conference that is really strong offensively.”
West Virginia started out 5-0 before beginning its stunning collapse; the Mountaineers enter Saturday's home game against No. 12 Oklahoma on a four-game losing streak, surrendering over 40 points a game and ranking dead last nationally in pass defense.
That unit is a far, far cry from the last West Virginia defense Oklahoma faced.
In the 2008 Fiesta Bowl — while quarterback Pat White led his offense to five touchdowns in its final eight possessions — the Mountaineer defense held Oklahoma touchdown-less until midway through the third quarter of the 48-28 rout.
West Virginia entered that game ranked sixth nationally in total defense and sacked OU quarterback Sam Bradford three times.
“They had good speed on that defense,” Wallace said. “It caught Oklahoma a little by surprise. When those kids were blitzing, they were really blitzing. Oklahoma got called for several holding penalties; that was one of the key stats in that game.”