MORGANTOWN - It was the most maligned unit a year ago when West Virginia struggled to a 7-6 season and a loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Now, it may very well be the reason the Mountaineers still have a shot at the Big 12 championship after WVU's 30-21 victory over preseason league favorite Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
That it is the Mountaineer defense, which picked off two passes - returning the first one 58-yards for the hosts first touchdown - and recovered a fumble as West Virginia improved to 3-2 on the season (1-1 in Big 12 play).
"Our defense played well," head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They created turnovers and stuck people. They held a team to 21 points that hasn't been held to that for quite sometime.
"They played really well. We played OK offensively and on special teams. We have issues that we need to get sorted out. But, the defense played consistently for most of the game."
An evaluation shared by the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator Keith Patterson as well as the Cowboys' head coach Mike Gundy.
"I think it shows you the character of our players," Patterson said when asked about his unit's big hold when OSU had a first-and-goal at the WVU 3. "They didn't panic. They continued to play hard and they continued to play aggressive and make plays."
Gundy's evaluation wasn't much different.
"We have to give credit to the plays they (WVU's defense) for the plays they made," said Gundy. "We have a chance to take the lead, but instead we have to settle for a field goal to tie and we miss that."
Overall, the defense surrendered 433 total yards, but only 111 on the ground on 40 carries by the Cowboys.
"Obviously, we need to establish the run to make our offense work," continued the OSU coach. "When you are averaging 2.5 yards per carry on 40 runs, that's just not good enough and it's something we will have to address this week in practice."
West Virginia's running attack wasn't that effective as senior Charles Sims was held to 60 yards on 18 carries, but caught five passes for 82 more yards as the offense finished with 388 total yards on 90 plays.
"We're still not close to being perfect, but it was a beginning," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "The one thing we did was that we kept competing."
The defense's play overshadowed the first career start at WVU for former-Florida State signal-caller Clint Trickett.
In his first outing since seeing six plays in a 24-17 win over William and Mary, Trickett completed 24-of-50 attempts for 309 yards and one touchdowns. He also threw a couple of picks in the first half of action that kept fans wondering if he truly was the answer to WVU's ongoing quarterback woes.
"He still has a long way to go," continued Dawson. "They (the offense) all do. But, the one thing that he is doing is communicating better.
"That was the one thing that was holding him back. He still hasn't reached a comfort level where he feels like he understands the whole offense, but it's getting better."
And, as long as the defense continues to play like it did on Saturday, Trickett and WVU's offense will have more time to accomplish that feat.