By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Joe DeForest, West Virginia’s new co-defensive coordinator who Dana Holgorsen plucked away from Oklahoma State after 11 years of sparring with Big 12 offenses, looks upon the defensive mission in a most interesting way.
“Basically, the offense just borrows the football from us and we try to get it back from them,” he said, discussing a defensive philosophy that features a never-ending effort to get turnovers.
“Turnovers are at a premium. If we can get our offense three more possessions a game, I’ll take my chances,” he continued.
Chances? With this defense?
The way he puts it there is no chance involved.
“If you have three turnovers a game you will win every game,” he said. “I absolutely believe that and the kids know it.”
Are turnovers really that important?
Well, last year the Mountaineers lost three games. They had a combined total of ONE takeaway in the three games.
Against Clemson, when they scored 70 points, they had four … with the game turning on Darwin Cook’s 99-yard fumble recovery and return for a touchdown that ignited a 35-point second quarter onslaught that broke open the affair.
You can take the football away via interceptions, which can be caused by good coverage or bad passing, but which may most often be caused by a savage pass rush. You can also take it away by fumbles, which are not simply gifts from God, but something DeForest demands his defense work on daily.
“There’s obviously a technique,” he said of causing fumbles. “The first guy in makes the tackle, next guy in strips the ball. If you are coming from behind a guy, you punch it out or strip it out. You run alongside the guy and he has the ball, you put your helmet on his helmet and try to break his elbow.”
Either way, there is one rule his players must never forget.
“You must be violent on the football,” he said, not pushing for violence on the ball carrier, simply on the ball he is carrying, the one he has borrowed from the offense.
A minimum of three turnovers are the goal in every practice, and that against a team that doesn’t turn the ball over very often.
“It has always been three a day,” DeForest said prior to Saturday’s practice. “We had three yesterday, and we had one on the first day. We don’t really judge it when we don’t have pads on, but we still demand it. We put pads on today, and we are going to get three a day for every day of camp. That is our goal.”
Will Clarke will be crucial in helping create the turnovers out of his defensive end position, being expected to add pressure on the quarterback to a defense that lost first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin, now with the Seattle Seahawks.
“Pressure will create turnovers,” he said, but adds that he is not going to try to be the second coming of Irvin, who was as unique a player as has ever rushed from the defensive end position.
“Of course, I have expectations for myself. I’m not trying to imitate him. I’m setting my own goals.
We’re two different kind of people,” Clarke said.
The new defense that is being installed is a flexible 3-4 with a linebacker/safety and a linebacker/defensive end, allowing it to have any number of looks that all are designed to confuse the offense.
But first the defense has to keep from being confused itself and that’s what the preseason is all about on the defensive side.
“The schemes we put in place defensively and special teams wise are much like it is for us offensively,” Holgorsen explained. “It’s not that hard to pick up. I’m not saying it’s easy [to do correctly], but it’s easy to pick up.”
It has to be easy because in the Big 12, Holgorsen said, more players have to be used and that means more freshmen getting playing time on defense.
Getting them ready takes all kinds of coaching methods, co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson explained.
“I think you got to pay attention to detail, and I think that you have to set your standard high for your players. Sometime you got to have your good cops and your bad cops, and I just think that it is not necessarily that you are being negative; sometimes you just coach loud because you are demanding that your players pay attention to detail.
“I tell my players all the time that if you let some 50-year-old man under your skin, you are not ready to win in front of 75,000 people.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.