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Davis, defense smothering in WVU victory

by Dan Shrensky

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- East Carolina's David Garrard never saw James Davis coming. West Virginia defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap sure did.

Dunlap figured a big game from Davis, who tied a school record with four sacks Saturday while making his first career start at outside linebacker, was just a matter of time. Davis led the Mountaineers with 11 tackles, including six for losses.

"He was awesome," Dunlap said. "We knew James could do that all year. It was just a matter of him getting playing time."

Davis, who subbed for senior David Carter, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, came off the edge more than Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon. But instead of plummeting forlornly into a canyon, Davis, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound former safety, usually landed right between Garrard's shoulder blades.

"We watched them on film and talked about coming off the ball fast and doing our technique," Davis said. "There was nothing really special about it."

Few would agree with that assessment, especially since Davis turned in a rare hat trick, sacking Garrard three times on one series. His last came on a blitz from the blind side, after the Pirates moved the ball to the WVU 19. The 7-yard loss forced ECU to settle for a field goal just before halftime, allowing the Mountaineers to head into the locker room with a 29-10 lead.

"I never had a series like that," Davis said. "I had three sacks and two interceptions, but that was in high school. I was just waiting for my turn and this opportunity came."

When asked what was going through his mind as he raced untouched to the quarterback, Davis grinned and said, "Kill, kill, kill. Hit him as hard as you can."

Davis owed his success to a diversionary tactic devised by Dunlap. Rush linebacker Chris Edmonds dropped into pass coverage while Davis ran free on the blitz.

"He came free because they weren't worried about him. They thought he was going to be in coverage every time," Edmonds said. "That's what got him his sacks."

Garrard, who was sacked five times, thought he also contributed to Davis' success.

"They hadn't run too many blitzes on film. The ones that (Davis) did, I was waiting for my man to get open. Maybe I was waiting a little too long.

"Maybe I should have gotten rid of it," he said.

Davis wasn't the only hero on defense for the Mountaineers, who turned three ECU turnovers into 17 points. Rick Sherrod's interception -- his second in as many games -- set up a field goal to give the Mountaineers a 9-0 lead in the first quarter.

Two plays after Davis' first sack of the day, Doug White's snap sailed over the head of ECU punter Kevin Miller, who illegally kicked the ball off the ground through his own end zone.

Avon Cobourne scored on a 1-yard run on the next play, giving the Mountaineers a 15-7 lead early in the second quarter.

On the next possession, WVU scored its sixth defensive touchdown of the year as Jason Davis scooped up Garrard's errant pitch in the end zone.

Along with James Davis, junior Shannon Washington (defensive end) and freshman Lance Frazier (cornerback) made their first career starts.

The Mountaineers held ECU to 1 yard rushing, the lowest in school history and a sharp contrast to the Pirates' 1999 win over WVU. ECU ran for 327 yards against WVU last year, its best performance in 23 games.

The Pirates rolled up most of their yardage in the second half as Garrard completed 17 of 26 passes and scored on a 33-yard flea flicker pass from flanker Arnie Powell to Aaron Harris. At the 12:33 mark of the third quarter, ECU had minus-23 yards rushing.

"We missed, what, 23 tackles last year and we knew we couldn't have that this year," Edmonds said. "We tackled well and caused a couple turnovers.

"I think that was the key to us winning."

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