Published September 23, 2010
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – At 235 pounds, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin is a lightweight at defensive end.
Just don't call him a pushover.
Going up against 300-pound offensive linemen, the junior college transfer is starting to live up to his preseason billing as a solid speed rusher on passing downs for No. 22 West Virginia (3-0).
After going sackless in West Virginia's first two games, Irvin had three sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup last week against Maryland to earn Big East defensive player of the week honors.
"It was a relief just to get it off my chest," Irvin said.
Irvin's teammates also were in on the fun. West Virginia had eight sacks overall against the Terrapins.
The challenge on Saturday for Irvin and the Mountaineers: Slowing down No. 15 LSU (3-0), which scored on seven of nine possessions in a 29-7 win over Mississippi State last week.
Despite his slow start against Coastal Carolina and Marshall, Irvin is on LSU's radar now.
"He's real quick off the line and not somebody you can take lightly," said Tigers left tackle Joseph Barksdale. "He's got a lot of speed, man. Good technique. Quick feet. We're definitely going to have to focus on beating his particular type of pass rush."
The attention on Irvin is not what he might have envisioned a few years ago.
He played wide receiver in Stone Mountain, Ga., but dropped out of high school in 2006.
A year later he earned his GED diploma, eventually resumed playing football and went to junior college in California as a safety in 2008.
Last year he was moved to the defensive line and recalled his coach's simple instructions: "Put your hand in the dirt and just look at the quarterback."
That advice was good enough for Irvin, who registered 16 sacks, was the second-leading tackler with 72 and returned a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown at Mount San Antonio Community College.
As far as his weight goes, Irvin explains money was tight in junior college because he wasn't on scholarship and was responsible for his own meals and expenses. He wasn't eating three meals a day.
His older brother, Chad, consoled him about the financial situation, saying to hold his head up and that everything happens for a reason.
"It was a struggle but it was worth it at the end," Irvin said. "God blessed me. I'm happy to be in the situation I'm in now."
While he was still in Georgia, Irvin had met West Virginia wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, who had been recruiting a friend of Irvin's. Galloway kept in contact after Irvin went to California, and Irvin ended up with the Mountaineers.
"It was just a perfect fit for me," Irvin said. "There were a lot of different defensive schemes and not just one basic defense."
The 6-foot-3 Irvin has always heard questions about his weight and pays little attention.
Once he got to Morgantown, Irvin didn't want to pack on the weight. He likes where he's at and said even gaining 5 or 10 pounds would take away from the speed advantage he feels he has against offensive linemen.
"Honestly it isn't about the size," he said. "Football is a game of leverage and whoever's under whoever's pads will win. I heard I cannot play the run. I know I can play the run. I can play low and as long as I stay low I think I can hold my own."
West Virginia entered the Maryland game as one of a few Bowl Subdivision teams without a sack and the Mountaineers were both frustrated and motivated to do something about it. In the first two games, quarterbacks for Coastal Carolina and Marshall took three-step drops and relied on screen passes.
"There's not much you can do when there's a lot of quick throws," he said.
Maryland quarterbacks used a five-step drop, giving Irvin and his teammates more time on the pass rush. Irvin saw more playing time, too, because defensive end Will Clarke didn't dress for the game.
Irvin's first sack came just before halftime. He pushed aside Maryland left tackle Justin Gilbert and hit backup quarterback Danny O'Brien so hard that O'Brien started walking toward the sideline with the clock running down and Maryland couldn't get off another play.
That seemed to open up the floodgates for Irvin's teammates. Scooter Berry got a career-high two sacks in the game.
"It feels like they're were just coming left and right," Irvin said. "It was crazy. We were happy about it but it's in the past now. Hopefully we can do it again this week. If we stop the run, they'll have no choice but to pass."
Barksdale said LSU's linemen have had experience dealing with similar tall, quick end pass rushers like Irvin in practice against Tigers starter Sam Montgomery (6-4, 245) and reserve Barkevious Mingo (6-5, 237).
LSU has shown some vulnerability in protecting Jordan Jefferson, who was sacked 34 times last year and has been corralled three times this season.
"I took a mental note of eight sacks and said, 'OK, well. We have to come out there and be ready to go,'" said LSU left guard Josh Dworaczyk. "Eight sacks is obviously a big number, for sure. They're good."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.