The past few years, the Mountaineers have suffered from an inability to get off the field in crucial third-down situations. Unfortunately, many of these third-down conversions have been the result of completed passes.
In addition, a number of West Virginia’s opponents’ third-down successes have not necessarily been the result of poor coverage on the part of Mountaineer defensive backs.
Oftentimes, it was a failure of the defensive line to put adequate pressure on the quarterback.
Traditionally tough against the run, it is not surprising that the Mountaineers have continued that dominance on defense this season.
Going into their game with the Mountaineers, Auburn was second in the nation in rushing offense. However, the stingy West Virginia defense held them to 100 yards on the ground, Auburn’s lowest rushing output all season.
In order for West Virginia to return to their customary spot as the Big East Champs, the Mountaineers will need to limit the opposition’s ability to throw the football.
And key to this success will be the play at defensive end.
Enter redshirt sophomore, Julian Miller.
Coming to the Mountaineers as undersized for the position, Miller is quickly growing into his role, mentally and physically.
Playing in all 13 games last season as a freshman, Miller was gaining playing time while the strength and conditioning coach was helping him put on the pounds.
He will need both the brawn and the brain at the position.
Miller can be compared to former college and NFL great, Renaldo Turnbull, who was arguably the best defensive end that the Mountaineers ever produced.
A first-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints in 1990, Turnbull had an impressive nine sacks in his rookie NFL season.
But ever since Turnbull’s departure, West Virginia has been desperately seeking a defensive end who can match his skills at routinely pressuring the quarterback.
The Mountaineers may have finally found that guy in Miller.
At 6'4", 250 pounds, Miller is nearly the equivalent of Turnbull’s size. This native of Sherrodsville, Ohio may eventually equal Turnbull’s skill and tenacity in making quarterbacks tremble.
Miller is the leading tackler among the Mountaineers’ defensive linemen. Three games into the season, Julian is leading the team, averaging 2.5 sacks a game. He also has four tackles for loss.
Following the season opener against Liberty, Miller was named the Co-Defensive Champion for the game.
I would be surprised if you don’t see a lot more of these awards in Miller’s immediate future.
Before the season comes to an end, I fully expect Miller to emerge as one of the leaders of this Mountaineer defense. In addition, I also look for Miller, by seasons end, to establish himself as one of the Big East leaders at defensive end.
If you remember Turnbull, you will recall the force he could be at defensive end. In college and in the pros, he had excellent speed when pursuing the quarterback. His massive wing-span made it difficult to elude his grasp or to pass over his outstretched arms.
I see many of these same qualities in young Mr. Miller.
Although it may often appear trite, there is certainly a lot of truth to the saying that, “defense wins championships.”
Therefore, if Miller lives up to my expectations in the remainder of this 2009 football season, then I fully expect the Mountaineers to win the conference and make another appearance at a BCS bowl game in January