The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

September 14, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Holgorsen looking for more out of improved defense

MORGANTOWN — The other day, during one of those bar-room debates that never really are settled but which explain the existence of people like Stephen A. Smith and Chris Berman, the subject turned to West Virginia University football.

That, by itself, these days will bring on quite a debate, be it over quarterback or coach, and this was to be no different.

It began with one of the participants stating something that has, over the seasons, come to be taken as the gospel:

• Offense wins football fans.

• Defense wins football games.

Daniel Webster himself couldn’t win a debate to the contrary, because all anyone would have to offer as exhibit A would be last season’s West Virginia University football team, which had an obscene excess of offense yet finished but 7-6 because it could play no defense.

They scored 49 a year ago against Oklahoma … and it wasn’t enough.

That is why the words that would roll out of WVU coach Dana Holgorsen’s mouth when someone wanted him to comment on the improved defense this season, a defense that held Oklahoma to just 16 points and to 435 total yards instead of the 662 of the previous season were so stunning.

“They played all right; it was just average,” Holgorsen said.

Average? Sixteen points?

How quickly they forget.

But Holgorsen wasn’t kidding.

“Coach (Keith) Patterson was explaining our board to them earlier with our goals, and with the goal on the end (the result of the game), we did not meet that goal,” he said. “We would’ve had to hold them to six points to meet that goal. As crazy as that sounds, and I understand that, but the way I view that and the way I portray that to our defensive guys is, you guys did a great job, your effort was tremendous, you got four turnovers, but you were the second best defense on the field.”

In other words, doing less than what it takes to win is unacceptable.

“I think that resonated with them,” Holgorsen continued. “If you want to be a dominating defense, and we were not on Saturday, we would’ve had to hold them to six points. It’s all about winning the game.

“I’m happy with their progress; I’ve said that since camp. I think they are further along with their progress than any time since I’ve been here. I think Keith (Patterson) is doing a great job, and he will be the first person to tell you that we are far from where we can be defensively.”

So, you had to ask the new defensive coordinator if that were true, the winning defense is the only really acceptable defense?

“The effort was there,” Patterson said. “We allowed some cheap yardage and let some guys get out on the boundaries on us in the second half. We had them backed up to the one-yard line one time and let them flip field position on us. Those things are disappointing because they were really close together.

“We had freshmen out on the field, and they maybe took advantage of that. We allowed some big runs in the second half, and that was probably the most disappointing thing. I thought the production was good.”

Patterson, of course, took over as coordinator late last season

from the beleaguered Joe DeForest, who was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He obviously couldn’t get it fixed by the Pinstripe Bowl and, perhaps, even as improved as it seems this year against the pass, the Oklahoma game showed the same vulnerability against the run that was evident against Syracuse.

Still, Patterson believes the groundwork has been laid to do better against the run.

“It just boils down to doing what you’re coached to do,” he said. “We had some misalignments. Everybody is talking about our rush defense and if not mistaken, for their first 30 rush attempts, they only had 115 yards. ... That’s not too bad of rush defense.”

Had the Sooners not rushed for 201 yards on their next 27 carries it would have been sound rush defense.

Instead, there is room to improve … a good bit of room.

Of course, if the WVU offense can start churning out some yardage and control the ball a little bit or actually take the lead so an opponent doesn’t feel comfortable running, it might allow good defense to actually win a game or two.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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