MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -West Virginia's once-maligned defense is now aligned.
No more jokes about jump-starting opposing quarterbacks' careers. No more worries about having to hold opponents below 30 points in order to have a chance to win.
A defense that ranked 119th in the nation against the pass last year is back on solid ground.
West Virginia has given up 21 points over the last two games. Maryland had 269 total yards and East Carolina managed only 160 total yards and a last-minute score in a 49-7 loss.
``I think we have a good swagger about us,'' said West Virginia linebacker Marc Magro.
That will be tested Friday night when No. 5 West Virginia (4-0) plays at No. 18 South Florida (3-0).
The Bulls' Matt Grothe is one of those quarterbacks who flourished against West Virginia last year, throwing for 279 yards and a touchdown, and running for another in a 24-19 win in Morgantown.
``We've got to get to him and try to get him on the ground as much as we can,'' Williams said.
West Virginia's defense won't ever be confused with LSU's top-ranked unit, but the Mountaineers have shown marked improvement, ranking in the top 20 in total, scoring and rush defense and 33rd in pass defense.
``I think their confidence is beginning to grow,'' said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. ``We do have more experience there than we did last year. There are some things we could get better at, but at the same time, we're getting better each week.''
Among the many reasons behind that are the linebackers, who lost two starters from a year ago.
Reed Williams, Mortty Ivy and Magro lead the team in tackles. Ivy and Magro have four sacks apiece and are tied for the team lead with defensive end Johnny Dingle. Williams and Ivy have two of the team's five interceptions.
Ivy is fully recovered from a right knee injury from spring practice of 2006 that limited him last season.
Magro played all of last season with a knee injury, had surgery and missed spring practice in 2007. But he got busy in offseason workouts and established himself as the strongest linebacker in Rodriguez's seven seasons with a 455-pound bench press.
During practice in August, the coaching staff forced Magro, a Morgantown native, to go home to recover from mononucleosis.
``I call him maybe one of the hardest working players in college football. He's got a great passion for the game,'' Rodriguez said. ``He's a guy that you like to build your program around.
``Marc is playing outstanding and Mortty is playing the best football of his career. We're getting pretty good play by all three linebackers.''
Also, Michigan transfer Ryan Mundy has proven a solid addition at free safety.
``We are swarming to the ball,'' Ivy said. ``We've got to have five, six, seven hats to the ball.''
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