Irvin a sack slacker? No
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - By any known and valid statistical measurement, Bruce Irvin's senior season was a bust.
Statistics, though, don't always tell the whole story. In fact, in Irvin's case they illustrate almost none of it.
Sure, his sack total went from 14 a year ago in his first season of major college football to just 71/2 this season. Shoot, through the first five games of the season he had just one. After eight he had added only 11/2 more. In seven of WVU's 12 games he had none.
And this from a guy who was second in the nation in sacks last season and had improved so much from that year to this that some were envisioning 20 sacks or more.
Did it disappoint him that he couldn't live up to those expectations?
"It did. But then again it didn't,'' Irvin said. "People knew who I was this year. If it had been as easy as it was last year I would have thought something was up, that coaches shouldn't be coaches.''
And therein rests what is statistically unquantifiable. While Irvin doesn't have the numbers to prove what sort of a pass rusher he is, he still has the respect. And it's because week after week throughout the season he, more than anyone else on WVU's defense, forced opponents to change either what they did offensively or how they tried to do it.
"That's what the game is, adjustments,'' Irvin said. "People weren't going to let me come in and single-handedly beat them. They adjusted to the game, sliding the line my way or putting two or three people on me.
"I've seen some crazy things, but I just look at it as a respect thing. If teams have to change their whole game plan around me, I just look at it like they've got a lot of respect for me and that I'm a good ballplayer. That means a lot. But then again, I want to make a play. I want sacks, too.''
Figure on Clemson trying some different things to stop Irvin, too. West Virginia and the Tigers play Wednesday night in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium and Clemson ranks no better than No. 86 in the country in sacks allowed. Facing a WVU defensive line that includes the NCAA's active career leader in sacks in Julian Miller on side and Irvin on the other side, the Tigers likely have to make some adjustments.
Chances are good, though, that whatever the Tigers do to try to stop Irvin, it won't be anything he hasn't seen.
In fact, Irvin was shocked by some of the adjustments.
"One team slid the protection my way, rolled the quarterback out and still had the guard, the tackle and the running back chip on me,'' Irvin said, shaking his head in near bewilderment. "How do you do that? How do you expect me to win like that? I can't do nothing with that.''
Fortunately for Irvin, those who know and track such things don't pay much attention to statistics. NFL scouts see what teams did to try to corral him and the coaches who made those adjustments still voted him onto the All-Big East team.
And Irvin, too, eventually came to appreciate that getting all that attention was just as valuable as getting sacks because perhaps even more than a few more sacks it changed the game.
"The stats are always great and you always have personal goals you want to reach,'' Irvin said. "But I'm just happy that I made it through the season healthy, no serious injuries and we're going to a BCS bowl. Those are the main two things I wanted and they both happened.''
Indeed, Irvin made it through the season healthy, which was important both to the WVU defense and to Irvin personally. Anyone looking at Irvin's situation objectively can see that college football, while certainly a destination for a guy from a rather troubled background, is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to play at the next level and be paid well for it.
Irvin was asked if that's what he meant when he said one of his main goals was to get through his senior season healthy.
"Ah, man, now you're getting personal there,'' he said.
Perhaps, but it's still a valid question.
"Sure, you think about your future, but you don't think about it like that,'' Irvin said. "No one wants to get hurt. I don't want to go out there and tear my ACL or blow my shoulder out. But that's not the only reason I didn't want to get hurt.''
No, but it's a pretty good one.
"Yeah, I suppose it is,'' Irvin said. "Sure, I think about the NFL. And you can't get hurt [to have a chance to play at that level]. Nobody wants banged-up players. I think about it sometimes, but at the end of the day West Virginia is the only thing that's important right now. And me being healthy helps this team. I think that's more of a reason to stay healthy than me worrying about my future.''
So, through all that he faced this season and the diminished sack total, does Irvin see himself as a better player than he was when he arrived last year from junior college?
"I think overall I am,'' Irvin said. "I learned a lot more about football than I did last year. I was young to the game last year. That was really my second year playing after a six-year break. So yeah, I think I was better this year than I was last year, a more complete player this year.
"I'm not going sit here and tell you stories. It was sure nice to get 14 sacks last year. But things don't always work like that and it's a team game. I'm just happy to be in the position we're in and playing in a BCS bowl. I would rather be in my situation with 71/2 sacks or whatever I've got and going to a BCS bowl than to be what we were last year and have 14 sacks and getting our butts beat in the ... what was that, the Champs Sports Bowl?''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.