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September 23, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU remains team oriented after loss

MORGANTOWN — If there is anything that can be taken out of a Saturday such as the one West Virginia lived through, playing an awful football game in a driving rainstorm while being shut out by the only real regional rival on its schedule, it is over and we can begin distancing ourselves from it.

That goes for the frolicking, rollicking, tailgating fans who went to Maryland to eat crabs and left feeling quite a bit crabby themselves and for a football team that played probably as bad an offensive game as has been played by West Virginia since Rich Rodriguez’s first season as coach.

“Offensively we are as inept as we can possibly be in college football, and I accept the responsibility for that,” said Coach Dana Holgorsen, who sounded completely perplexed by the performance.

But certainly by the time the buses had huffed and puffed their ways silently over the mountains and back home, by the time they slept the night away and let the emotional pains ease even if the physical ones would linger for a couple of days, thoughts of what was good were allowed to muscle their way in alongside those of what was bad.

These, of course, were defensive thoughts, and while there were 37 points on the Maryland side of the scoreboard those were more a minus-37 charged to the offense than any deficit that could be pinned on the defense.

Not that the defense was backing away from its responsibility. Just like a year ago, when the defense was this year’s offense, there was no finger pointing ... the team concept still holding together, as shown by nose-guard Shaq Rowell.

Rowell, along with the entire defense, had played not only hard, but well, and came away with nothing to show for it.

“We lost on all three sides of the ball – offense, defense and special teams,” Rowell said, and when inquisitors tried to press the issue to have him say that the defense had done its job, he refused to bite. He repeated it over and over.

“I keep saying it, but we really did, man. We beat this team seven times in a row and they came out today ready to play and whipped our ass. We didn’t even put a point on the board today. It was a disgrace to West Virginia and its 1.8 million people. That will never happen again while I’m here,” he said.

But he knew — anyone who had watched what transpired knew — that the defense was valiant in a futile effort to save the day.

Even Holgorsen, who was hardly in a mood to offer any compliments, had what had to pass as words of praise for the defense.

“We’re far from a suffocating defense but I do think we competed defensively,” said Holgorsen.

What seems ridiculous to think about is that if the WVU offense plays simply a competent game, turns it over twice instead of six times, finds a way to have more first downs than turnovers, which they did not do, the focus is on the job Holgorsen and his new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson have done in putting together a decent defense.

As difficult as it is to imagine, while Holgorsen’s offense stands 72nd in total offense and 108th in scoring, the defense stands 31st in the nation in total defense and 33rd in scoring defense.

The defense has played hard and with emotion and with skill.

Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph are punishing people, the linebackers led by Nick Kwiatkoski, Jared Barber and Doug Rigg are making tackles everywhere, and Rowell and senior Will Clarke up front have risen above the level where they were a year ago.

It is a different scheme from Patterson but more a different attitude, a sense now that they are not just an afterthought but are going to have to be the keys to victory.

“Me being a senior and a leader on this team, this is my word to you — it’s never going to happen again. There’s nothing else I can tell you. It’s my word. We’re not going to get goose-egged again,” Rowell vowed.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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