The Times West Virginian

June 30, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs to build much better defense

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.”



The above has come through the years to be far less than a sports cliché and more a sports truism, almost no matter what the sport.

This leads us to a most interesting question in these parts where, in the West Virginia University football program, it seems that almost more emphasis has been put on selling tickets – or, to be more precise, creating revenue which begins with selling tickets – than anything else.

Certainly when the decision was made three years ago to change change football coaches, the decision was based simply upon offensive football, for the coach who was hired, Dana Holgorsen, had no defensive credentials whatsoever and showed it by making a terrible mistake in hiring his first defensive coordinator after Jeff Casteel exited.

That he moved to correct that mistake before the season was over is to his credit, but it is with a great amount of trepidation that we have watched the current off-season efforts to rebuild the Mountaineers after a dismal second-half collapse left them at 7-6 a year ago with an embarrassing loss in an embarrassing bowl game.

It has seemed as though the emphasis through the off-season was far greater on rebuilding the offense than on the defense.

True, gone was most of the offensive line and nearly all of the offensive skill in quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but considering that this was a record-setting offense that could produce but seven victories, one must question whether the rebuilding emphasis is being misplaced.

This especially true in an era when the collegiate college champion is Alabama – almost every year, it seems – which is built on defense, and the NFL champion is the Baltimore Ravens, another defense first team.

WVU’s football boss, however, is a man out of a family tree that produced offensive-minded coaches and seemed far more pleased with a 70-63 victory over Baylor than anyone who believes in the adage that defense wins championships ever could be.

What have we heard about all off-season?

We’ve heard about quarterback Clint Trickett and running back Charles Sims transferring in, junior college running back Dreamius Smith coming in, a freight-car full of potential receivers being corralled from high school, junior colleges and even welcomed back after leaving the team.

There were 26 recruits, just 11 of them defensive players … and last year’s defense was by far the worst ever in WVU history and nearly the nation’s worst.

Yes, the offense needed to be rebuilt.

The defense needed to be built.

Changing coordinators and philosophies figures to help some, but there never has been a coach who can win without talent, and there quite obviously was a talent shortage on defense a year ago. Freshmen can only provide so much help for they lack the experience and physical maturity they will have in future years.

Much emphasis, therefore, was put on junior college players, both offensively and defensively, for immediate help, but the truth is if the defensive players can’t immediately fill holes WVU is looking at a difficult time.

This year’s offense, no matter how much help has been procured in the off-season, can’t expect to match the production that came from Smith-Austin-Bailey and Co. a year ago.

The hope is there’s a Bruce Irvin among the junior college players who can provide immediate impact, not just production, to give life to the defense and join known playmakers like Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook in making plays that count.

Winning can only be accomplished if the likes of Brandon Golson, a linebacker out of Georgia Military College; d’Vante Henry, a linebacker out of Western Arizona Community College, or Dontrill Hyman, a defensive tackle out of Hinds Community College, show up capable to harness Big 12 offenses right away.

In the final analysis, the truth is that neither offense nor defense sells tickets.

Winning championships does … and that requires both.

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