The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 23, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN-No excuses for ‘D’ not improving

MORGANTOWN — A week ago, or another 55 points if you are keeping time that way, a case was made in this little corner of the world in favor of giving Joe DeForest more of a chance to work with the West Virginia defense as its coordinator, and little has changed since then.

But that’s the problem.

In the postgame scrum around DeForest, as he tried for the 100th or so time this year to explain what had happened as Kansas State completed all but two of the passes it threw in this 55-14 rout, a serious question was posed to DeForest.

“Coach, where would you say this team has improved from Week 1 to Week 7?”

DeForest hesitated before offering an answer, trying to think it through.

“That’s a good question ... a good question,” he finally would say. “I think each week it changes. There’s some positives we can pull out of it ... and there’s some negatives, obviously. Right now we aren’t getting better. They can’t score every time they touch the ball until the fourth quarter when it was over.”

That is the troubling part of what has transpired with WVU, even in a league acknowledged as the best offensive league in college football.

“Right now we aren’t getting better” keeps echoing through the recesses of the mind. It’s there when you go to sleep, there when you get up.

It is one thing to have a bad defense for whatever reason, but there is no excuse for a lack of improvement and that is especially true with WVU, which ranks at or near the bottom of all defensive statistics.

To make it even more confounding, what is being used as an “excuse,” although everyone denies it is an excuse only to bring it up over and over, is that this is a young defense and they are playing a lot of freshmen, as many as nine of them against Kansas State.

Young players, inexperienced players may be bad at first. No question about it.

But they also should be the ones who show the most improvement over the course of a season.

They start slowly, physically not ready for the strength or speed of the game, mentally not ready for the complexities of it.

But they should, by midseason, be showing marked improvement, especially the ones who are playing.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen was asked a similar question in his postgame press conference about how far the defense has come since the season opened.

His answer was telling.

“They probably haven’t shown much improvement. I’m not happy with where we’re at,” he admitted.

That is as close as Holgorsen has come to pointing a finger at the defensive staff and at DeForest, for if he is not happy with where they are at, as he put it, then he has to look to why that is where they are ... and that has to lead him into an evaluation of the coaching.

DeForest has publicly said he did not want to blame it on the kids, that he’d take the blame, and he has vowed to make it right.

That is a laudable attitude.

His analysis after the K-State game was quite basic.

“The bottom line is you have to tackle the quarterback. We didn’t do that at times. They’d gain 3, they’d gain 4, they’d gain 2 and then all of a sudden they’d make a big play,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a guy to make a play.”

Certainly there are players capable of it or they would not have been recruited, yet they can’t find anyone to step forward and take charge.

“It’s hard. You want someone to step up and grab the team and say, ‘C’mon, follow me!’ We don’t have that on defense and until we do we’ll struggle. It’s up to us as coaches to find leaders, but it’s up to the kids to be leaders. You can’t always lead as a coach. You have to have someone from within to pull them with you,” DeForest said.

It hurts to see how troubled DeForest is, how perplexed, for his job never was easy. Over the past three years WVU had sent nine defenders to the NFL, it had changed coordinators and defensive schemes and philosophies.

That is not a formula for instant success, so the truth is that all you really have to judge is the progress made in the first year ... and everyone seems to be in agreement that as of yet, past the season’s halfway point little to no progress has been seen.

Maybe this week it will happen. Who knows?

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

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