CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest believes the Mountaineers' struggles on his side of the ball can be repaired.
How that can be done, especially in one week with No. 4 Kansas State coming to Morgantown, remains to be seen.
West Virginia's defense has given up 49, 45 and 63 points in its last three games. Only terrific efforts from the offense enable the Mountaineers to pull out close wins in two of those contests.
The problems can't be pinpointed to one specific area. There have been blown coverages, a fickle pass rush, poor tackling and big yardage gains galore, including Texas Tech's 18 plays of 15 yards of more last week.
Heading into Saturday's showdown with the Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12), DeForest stressed that No. 17 West Virginia (5-2, 2-1) must play with more passion and learn from its defensive mistakes.
"We have a lot of things to correct," DeForest said. "But they're all correctable."
DeForest was hired away from Oklahoma State in January after longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and two other defensive coaches left to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, signaling an end to West Virginia's 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
Gone, too, were four of the top seven tacklers along with sack specialist Bruce Irvin from last year's team that allowed 29 points per game, worst in the Big East.
It's only gone downhill from there.
The lid seemed to come off in the 49-14 loss at Texas Tech that doused the Mountaineers' national title hopes.
"It was much more than just mental mistakes, from what I saw," linebacker Doug Rigg said. "It was bad effort on the field. A lot of people were just making one-on-one tackles instead of swarming the ball, and that was the biggest thing with the coaches. They weren't mad too much about the mental mistakes because that happens in a game. It was more people not getting to the ball and people not putting the effort forth needed to win the game. And that's very disappointing."
In its first season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers aren't alone in their misery. Half of the teams are surrendering 28 points or more each week.
Texas gave up nearly 700 yards to Oklahoma last Saturday. Baylor is allowing 41 points and 372 passing yards a game. Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are among the worst in the country at forcing turnovers.
The Mountaineers might just have them all beat.
Behind the 3-4 scheme installed by DeForest, West Virginia is 114th in total defense, allowing 496 yards a game; 118th in pass defense and 109th in scoring defense.
Amid all the mess, West Virginia hasn't allowed a 100-yard individual rushing effort all season. The Mountaineers are holding opponents to 131 yards on the ground, although that may be because of all the aerial assaults they've seen.
All that might change against Kansas State, which has the nation's 11th best rushing offense behind running back John Hubert (101 yards per game) and quarterback Collin Klein (85).
DeForest wants his defense to take a group-hug approach toward Klein and Hubert, and not in the nicest way.
"We're keying on him, and their running back," said West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce. "We're trying to contain them, and let other people (try to) beat us."
And maybe, for once, the Mountaineers won't have to hear the criticism and snickering.
"As a defense you're not trying to give up all those yards," Rigg said. "And you don't want to hear commentators talking about how the low-point of the team is the defense. But we haven't done anything yet to prove them otherwise. So we're trying to get better every single day in practice and help out the offense. The mistakes are eventually going to get fixed, but we need to come out with more energy."
DeForest specifically won't blame opposing receivers' abilities to get open and score easily on any individual or sub-unit.
As Bruce put it, "everybody has to do their 1/11th part."