The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 11, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Defense needs to be WVU’s No. 1 priority

MORGANTOWN — When Dana Holgorsen took over as West Virginia’s football coach, he came carrying the credentials of an offensive innovator and with an unbroken history of offensive success, the assumption being that it would carry over from Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State to WVU.

And, for two years of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it did, but this past season there was a dramatic fall off in production not only after losing maybe the three greatest players ever to perform in the passing game at WVU all at once, but also through injuries to two of three quarterbacks who were to inherit the job.

So steep was the decline that it was natural to place most of the focus on the offense’s shortcomings as the season deteriorated into a 4-8 disaster.

That, however, works against future improvement because the defense must be made into the No. 1 priority.

In a conference that offers so much offense, it figures that the team playing the best defense would win the title, and a strong case can be made that Baylor was the best defensive team in the conference, ranking second in scoring defense and total defense ... but trailing different teams in both categories.

True, the Bears did not have to face their own offense, while others did, affecting the final numbers in no small way, but you have to play the hand that’s dealt you.

This, though, is not about how good Baylor’s defense was, but how much worse West Virginia’s was than people realized.

The reason it avoided more criticism was twofold, the heavy focus on the offense and the fact that the defense was actually improved over the previous season when it established itself as the worst in WVU history.

The problem was the improvement wasn’t from bad to good. It was from atrocious to terrible.

How bad was the WVU defense last season?

Here are some of WVU’s national rankings on defense in 2013 (out of 123 teams):

• Passing yards allowed ... 263.3 yards per game ... No. 108

• Scoring defense ... 33.3 points per game ... No. 99 tie

• Rushing defense ... 191.7 yards per game ... No. 90

• Total defense ... 455.0 yards per game ... No. 102

• Pass efficiency defense ... 140.81 ... No. 95

• Third down efficiency defense ... 42.7 percent ... No. 91

• Fourth down efficiency defense ... 75 percent ... No. 117 tie

• Sacks ... 1.33 per game ... No.106

That’s eight categories being ranked No. 90 or lower.

If this seems bad, it’s really worse. Two nonconference games were played against FBC opponent William & Mary and a winless Georgia State team that is moving into FBS play. The Mountaineers held Georgia State to just 84 yards passing and a dismal Kansas team to 61 passing.

Take those two games away and WVU gave up 302.5 passing yards in its other 10 games, which would rank 119th out of 123 teams — unacceptable and unbelievable.

Did the defense suffer a great many injuries that cut down on its effectiveness?

It did.

Is that an excuse?

Not in the least. This is football. Injuries happen and you must be able to fill those voids with capable players.

Think the offenses they were facing were always at full strength?

But to understand better what is going on defensively at West Virginia, one must put together last season and this season’s figures. Over the past two years only seven teams in all of FBS football have allowed more yards than WVU football (see chart below) — New Mexico State, Idaho, New Mexico, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Nevada and California.

That is not the kind of company WVU wants to be keeping in football.

The deterioration in the defense went from the time Holgorsen scrapped the 3-3-5 that Jeff Casteel had run so successfully in favor of a 3-4.

“Yeah, what’s always given me the most problems is the 3-4,” Holgorsen said before his first season of using it. “It’s just a lot of movement and a lot of stemming and showing looks and not necessarily what you line up in is what you’re going to get. I think the 3-4 gives you the best opportunity to do that. So Oklahoma State did that a little bit with Joe (DeForest), but Keith Patterson, from a front standpoint, has been doing that. I’ve coached against him the past four years at Tulsa, and between the two of them, they’re going to put something out there that’s pretty tough to play against.”

We’re waiting.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: NCAA football is thriving in the digital age

    The other day Baylor football coach Art Briles walked into his graduate assistants’ office and had to laugh at what he saw.
    “There’s five guys sitting in there — a couple of GA’s and some office personnel — and they all are within a foot and a half of each other and not a one of them is talking to each other,” Briles said, describing the scene “Every one of them is on the phone.”

    April 24, 2014

  • O’Brien leads WVU baseball past Marshall

    Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.

    April 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU faithful again have a reason to root against Vick

    It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.

    April 23, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions

    West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

    April 22, 2014

  • Mountaineers ready for slate of rivalry games

    Looking to put together a late-season run to get into the NCAA championships, West Virginia faces a pair of midweek rivalry games in a crucial five-game week coming off winning two of three games at Oklahoma.

    April 22, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Summer, Alabama will be used to get WVU’s mind right

    The ink had barely dried on the final reports out of West Virginia’s spring practice when thoughts turned forward toward the lazy, hazy days of late summer, days that will bring us into football season with a game that can either change the entire image of WVU football or sour it even further.

    April 21, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Watson tees off a new century at The Greenbrier

    You knew this was going to be one of those unpredictable, memorable days when you drove into the Greenbrier Resort and headed to the Old White Golf Course and found the best parking place in the joint.
    As Bob Uecker would say, right there in the front rooooow.

    April 20, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing

    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads