The Times West Virginian

October 31, 2013

Third-down defense came back to bite WVU

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Keith Patterson is a football lifer, the West Virginia University defensive coordinator’s coaching career stretching back to 1986, the first 16 years of it coaching high school football in Texas and Oklahoma.

He thought he’d seen almost everything possible on a football field … until West Virginia played at Kansas State this past Saturday.

“I’ve probably said this on more than one occasion; it was probably one of the strangest games I’ve been associated with,” he said.

Strange?

To most people it simply looked as though the Wildcats overwhelmed WVU, but Patterson would beg to differ with that assessment. See, through much of that Patterson felt secure in what his defense was doing.

“To feel like we were in such control – they were 1-for-6 on third downs going into their third possession of that the second half,” he pointed out.

Mark that down – 1-for-6 on third downs, right up until the Wildcats drove to take the lead.

“We were stopping the run. Then we got them into third-and-6, third-and-11 and third-and-goal from the 9 on the possession that put them ahead 14-12. That was the key possession of the game, I thought.”

Indeed it was. It was as if the teams changed uniforms.

“You have to give them credit. They executed; we didn’t. That was probably the most troubling part of watching that game. Our kids, it absolutely made them sick. Just take care of you responsibility on those seven critical plays in the second half …” Patterson said, his voice trailing off.

“I don’t know if they can score again if we do that. Three plays, critical situations, we have to be able to get off the field and it changes the game. It wasn’t like they made some great adjustment.”

In fact, Patterson said they changed nothing.

“That stuff is so overrated. Think about it. You’ve got four or five on the offensive staff sitting in these nice, big, comfortable chairs watching video all week, drinking coffee. If they can’t think of some great adjustment doing that, they sure aren’t going to think of one during the heat of battle,” he said. “That stuff is so overrated. No, they just did what they were supposed to do.”

Now let’s understand, K-State was up only 14-12 after that one drive, but they converted every third down they tried the rest of the game, going 8-for-8 in the second half.

It was insane, so much so that on seven of the third downs, Patterson used seven different coverages in an effort to stop Bill Snyder. He pulled out everything he had in the playbook, and none of it worked.

“It was unlike me,” he admitted.

He went man-free and they hit twice, each time facing a different blitz.

“One mistake was technique; one was assignment,” he said.

Now they had him thinking.

“What happens is a defensive caller goes, ‘Wow, I just went man-free twice and got beat,’ so you say, ‘I’m going to change the coverage,’ so I did, and they beat us right across the middle. So, you say, ‘I’m not going back to that,’ and you go a single-safety concept and they hit us with an out-go,” he recalled.

“Like I said, just trying to move the dots on the quarterback a little bit. But that’s what they do. That’s how their program is built. They keep doing what they do until you make a mistake. We eventually broke down.”

Maybe they ought to let WVU play with 12 defensive players.

“I’d go for that,” Patterson said, laughing at what may not be a laughing matter.

Why did WVU break down?

There were reasons, most of them injury-related.

“Since the Oklahoma game, it’s been a nightmare,” Patterson admitted.

Injuries devastated the nickel package used on third down, nickel back Ricky Rumph out with a foot injury, linebacker Marvin Gross out with a groin, cornerback Daryl Worley out with a shin injury, safety Wes Tonkery, also often part of the nickel package, out for the year now with upcoming shoulder surgery … and then pass rusher Dontrill Hyman suffering an ankle injury in the midst of the K-State game, which had wide-reaching implications as Kyle Rose had to be moved outside while Darrien Howard broke his redshirt in the 8th game to play inside.

All of it has led to defensive disasters that have WVU facing bowl extinction as it plays TCU this Saturday in Fort Worth.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.