By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
As you sit next to West Virginia’s senior defensive end Will Clarke during player interviews this week, you look at him and wonder just what kind of terror a quarterback must feel when he looks across the line of scrimmage and sees him.
Oh, as he sits there speaking he is hardly threatening. His voice is soft, even when he notes that the idea this season in the defense is to make it more of an attacking defense than it was a year ago when teams dismantled it with great dispatch.
The voice and the approach is different than the look. He is long at 6-feet, 7-inches, and angular enough to wonder why he isn’t actually muscling his way after rebounds for Bob Huggins rather than trying to muscle and quick his way past 315-pound offensive tackles, shed a blocking fullback and then trying to run down a quarterback more like Patrick White or Robert Griffin III these days than the anchors who once were Joe Namath, Dan Marino or Vinny Testaverde in the college game.
A year ago Clarke, like the rest of the WVU defense, was mostly a disappointment. He had eight fewer tackles as a junior than as a sophomore and in 12 games had but 1.5 sacks, not the production you would want from your defensive end.
The problem, however, was more scheme than theme … the defense just wasn’t ever right and the fact that it gave up a record 495 points and 6,142 yards speaks to its ineffectiveness, as does a coaching shakeup at the end of the year that leads to a different approach.
Keith Patterson is the new defensive coordinator, a man who was on the staff last year and had the title of co-coordinator, which sounds like stuttering and well may have been, for it wasn’t his defense to shape.
Now it is in his hands and his approach is something Clarke is eager to put into action.
“We have more of an attacking approach this season, compared to the loop stepping we did last year,” Clarke explained. “It helps the defensive linemen a lot and it helps the linebackers, because they are the correction guys, the cleanup guys. We get to where we’re supposed to go — our gaps and our holes — and that makes it easier for them.”
A year ago, if you look at the tackling statistics, you find the defensive linemen did not do much tackling, that is was mostly backers and especially safeties Karl Joseph, a true freshman who had 104 tackles, and Darwin Cook, who did the tackling.
This year there is a different approach which leads to a different attitude.
Patterson has a vision of a defense that creates mistakes and turnovers.
“If we force three or more turnovers, we give ourselves a chance to win 12 games,” Patterson said in explaining what he wants this week. “I truly believe that.”
And, you begin any thoughts about create turnovers with creating havoc for the quarterback, especially in a Big 12 conference where the ball is being thrown around so much.
“We’re going to do some things to get to the quarterback,” said Patterson. “It may not result in a sack. It may not result in a (tackle for a loss), but it may result in him making a poor decision.”
And that brings us back to Clarke, who has to become more of a pass rushing factor off the edge, much as Bruce Irvin did a couple of years back, getting himself a place in the first round of the NFL draft.
Clarke believes it can with the changes that have been instituted in the defense.
“Just the whole attacking makes the difference,” he said. “Not trying to read so much, just going … going forward.”
This year the entire defense feels it has to make amends for what transpired a season ago.
“It wasn’t something we aimed for,” he said of the records for futility. “It’s something we are keeping in the back of our heads. It’s something we don’t want to go back to. We’re building to be a better defense.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.