- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brandon Hogan told Keith Tandy last week that he was getting frustrated. Cincinnati kept throwing to Tandy's side of the field, leaving Hogan without many chances to make plays or lay a hit on somebody.
The Bearcats attempted to pick on what they considered to be the lesser cornerback on West Virginia's defense. They ended up pretty frustrated, too.
Tandy was seen by many as a potential weak link on the Mountaineers' defense coming into the year. But the junior's improved, steady play has helped make that defense one of the most dominating in the country. Cincinnati found out the hard way, as its high-powered passing attack managed only 221 yards while Tandy had an interception and four pass breakups. Afterward, head coach Bill Stewart said that Hogan and Tandy had "as solid a game here by two corners as I've seen in many, many a moon."
Most people expected Hogan to be an All-Big East-caliber corner. Tandy is the one leading the league in passes defended and tied for the most interceptions with five.
"It's been pretty drastic," Tandy said of his own improvement. "The main thing is that people are afraid to throw it at Brandon, so they come my way more."
Tandy is also playing with a much higher level of confidence that has come through experience. The lasting memory of last season for him was getting beat on long balls by South Florida's Carlton Mitchell in a loss to the Bulls in Tampa. Those tough times helped him grow.
"Once you get beat two or three times in a game like that, you realize it's not the end of world," he said. "I came back and made a couple plays in that game, and the whole time my teammates and coaches were like, 'We believe in you.' That was huge for me."
Defensive backs coach David Lockwood says Hogan is the type of guy who never lets anything bother him. If he gets burned on a play, he immediately forgets it. Tandy doesn't have the same personality, but he's getting there.
"I watch Brandon a lot," Tandy said. "Everybody should play like him. He's running around out there, having a good time and trying to make plays."
Tandy has had his own moments. He had a strong game against LSU, when Hogan returned from a one-game suspension. Tandy grabbed his first interception of the season that night in Baton Rouge and said it was special because he grew up watching SEC football as a youngster in Hopkinsville, Ky. The only SEC school to offer the three-sport star and standout high school quarterback was Kentucky, which came in late after West Virginia had recruited him. No other FBS programs offered scholarships.
Teammates jokingly call Tandy "Tip Drill" because so many of his interceptions have come on deflected passes. But there's skill in that.
"He's in the right place at the right time," Lockwood said. "He gives himself a chance to do what he's supposed to do."
Tandy will have a new challenge this week as he returns to his home state to play at Louisville. The Cardinals have a balanced attack led by the league's best rushing offense. That allows them to succeed with play-action passes, and it means the defensive backs will have to be disciplined in knowing when to support the run and when to cover streaking receivers.
But West Virginia is well equipped to deal with that. The Mountaineers have not just one, but two of the best cornerbacks in the Big East
"When you have two guys who can hold it down out there, it just makes the defense that much better," Lockwood said.