By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The most important aspect of West Virginia University’s Pinstripe Bowl meeting with Syracuse next Saturday is not whether or not West Virginia wins.
Not in the overall picture of what West Virginia needs most.
It also is not whether or not the Mountaineers send Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey off into their NFL careers with memorable performances, although that, too, would be nice to do and fitting.
No, what West Virginia needs most in this game is a strong defensive performance, one to show that the Mountaineers are on the right track and that there is more than a possibility of improving upon the worst defense in school history, that there is a certainty of that occurring
It won’t be easy, of course, for even though Keith Patterson has been promoted to defensive coordinator with former coordinator Joe DeForest put into a position more fitting to his experience, and even though cornerback coach Daron Roberts has been dismissed, much of the blame placed upon him by inference if not by words, even though all that happened the players remain the same and the time is not great.
Patterson promises no miracles, at least not in the bowl game, but he also says he will make changes from what had been there before, deftly deflecting questions as to what changes so as to not tip his hand to prying Syracuse eyes now dying to know just how different a scheme and personnel they will face in the game.
“It’s going to be a process,’’ Patterson admitted on the first day he spoke of the promotion. “First you have to get guys to understand the concepts of what we’re trying to get done. We’ll be very multiple in our coverage concepts, and to do that you’ve got to be multiple, but simple. We’ll be aggressive in our techniques and coverages and things like that, depending on down-and-distance situations.”
As a process, it will take time, the pre-bowl period, next spring and next preseason before it’s all installed and ingrained, before he has fully analyzed all personnel and what will work best with them and for them.
“You can’t just make wholesale changes at this point. But I think you’ll see some differences,’’ he said, talking of the Pinstripe Bowl game.
It is difficult to imagine what he has taken over, harder to talk about considering that he was a big part of it as a linebacker coach who also carried a co-coordinator title, but make no doubt it was awful.
This was a team that gave up more points and more yardage through the air than any WVU team in history, a team that couldn’t defend any passing team with ability and that never improved as the season went on.
It was obvious right from the start, right there on opening day when Marshall threw for 413 yards on the Mountaineers … and it would get worse. Maryland, which was down to its third quarterback and a team that would finish the year ranked No. 100 in passing among 120 teams with an average of 181 yards a game, threw for 305 yards.
Then along came a team that could pass, and Baylor scored 63 points and ran up more than 700 total yards, being so successful that Stedman Bailey’s 303 receiving yards were not the most in the game by a receiver, Baylor’s Terrance Williams surpassing that.
It never let up the entire year, except at the end when they checked two land-based, not very productive offenses in Iowa State and Kansas well enough that they were able to qualify for a bowl.
It came down to a team that thought it could win a national championship going into the season being fulfilled by just getting a bowl bid.
So now the torch has been passed to Patterson, who unlike DeForest at least has a history of being a defensive coordinator, having done the same at Tulsa and for a year at Pitt.
He gives Holgorsen just what he’s looking for.
“Keith has always been a (proponent of the) 3-4 multiple, attacking, blitzing and doing different coverages. We’ve been doing specific stuff like that all year,’’ coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There will be some changes. There will be some noticeable changes. I can tell you what they are, but if you print them, the people up at Syracuse are going to start working on it. But we’ve had good talks and I like where it’s at.’’
Of course, DeForest was trying to do the same thing, but couldn’t get it accomplished.
If it was because of the players, shame on them.
If it was because of the way DeForest coached them, shame on him.
In truth we’ll never know for the cast will be much different next season, but Patterson is a different animal than DeForest.
”I think I’m just different in a lot of ways, so I just have to coach to my style and things that I’m used to doing and things that have allowed me to be successful over the course of my career,’’ Patterson said. “I just try to get guys to try and develop my mentality from the standpoint of being aggressive and attacking, yet being sound fundamentally and being a disciplined group of people.’’
It’s a tall order, really, one that will only be in its toddler stage for the bowl game.
Springtime is for lovers and, in West Virginia football, for lovers of real defense.
If a flower of defense is to grow from the change, it will be planted in the spring.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.