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Week Off Leaves Mountaineers Well-Armed

Chad Johnston is throwing less and enjoying it more.

For the past month, the West Virginia quarterback’s right bicep hurt so much he found it tough to throw properly. So he’s cut his practice passes from about 100 balls a day to 30.

“My muscle just ached all the time,” said Johnston, who still has 1,105 yards and six touchdowns for the undefeated and 17th-ranked Mountaineers (6-0). “When it gets tired, I drop down and don’t come over the top. With this week off, and cutting down on the balls I’ve thrown in practice, it’s beginning to feel a lot better.”

And if Johnston is throwing better, West Virginia’s sleeping offense, the one averaging just 24 points per game, may wake up in time for the difficult part of the season.

Last week, Johnston, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior, had one of his best days in a 34-17 win over Boston College. He was 18 of 31 for 354 yards and two TD passes. Up until that game, freshman Amos Zereoue, with 686 yards and nine TDs, kept the offense going.

Now it gets rough for West Virginia, with three of its final five games against Miami, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. For that reason, plus WVU’s bowl losses that ruined perfect seasons in 1988 and ‘93, there hasn’t been much talk about national titles.

“We’ve got plenty of opportunities ahead of us,” Johnston said. “People can watch us on TV and judge how good we are. I’m not surprised it’s taking a while for us to move up in the Top 25, but if we keep winning, people will take us seriously.”

While the offense is still searching for answers, there are no questions about the defense. Led by linebackers Canute Curtis and Bernard Russ, plus a solid secondary featuring Mike Logan and Charles Emanuel, WVU’s blitz-zone package is why folks in Morgantown are excited.

Curtis, a 6-foot-3, 260-pounder from Amityville, N.Y., dubbed “The Amityville Horror,” has 10 sacks in six games and a school-record 28 for his career. It’s tough to locate Curtis since he roams the field looking for a spot to slip through and smash the quarterback.

“We really like to get after it,” Curtis said a few days after he had two of WVU’s 10 sacks against BC. “It took awhile to learn, but now that we’ve got it down, we’re enjoying it.”

Adds Nehlen: “Early in the season people had real trouble with it. Now teams know us a little better. But we’re not about to change anything. We’ve got a good defense not because of the blitz package, but because we have good players.”


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