MORGANTOWN - It wasn't long after West Virginia ended its regular season with a rout of Kansas that Dana Holgorsen began addressing the issue of a defense that was arguably the worst in the long history of Mountaineer football.Some would argue that changes were long overdue. After all, it was apparent virtually from the start that defense as it was being played would be West Virginia's greatest liability. If it wasn't obvious when Marshall passed for 413 yards in the opener, it became so when pass-poor Maryland threw for 305 yards with a third-string quarterback, and then Baylor gained a nearly unfathomable 700 yards of total offense and scored 63 points.Then, of course, Texas Tech gained 676 yards and the issue was front and center because it finally cost the previously 5-0 Mountaineers their first loss. Beginning there and for the next four games, West Virginia's defense helped crown five consecutive opposing players as the Big 12's offensive player of the week.And while there was one minor alteration made with an almost entirely new defensive coaching staff during the regular season - coordinator Joe DeForest and his assistant, Keith Patterson traded game-day places with DeForest going to the press box to call defenses - there were no dramatic changes made.
But then as soon as the regular season ended, Holgorsen promoted Patterson to defensive coordinator and within a week had fired cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts. How much of a difference that makes won't be known until Saturday, when West Virginia faces Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.Until then, the question remains how much a couple of coaching changes will matter with a defense that has just three weeks to fix huge problems."We're constantly striving to become better,'' Patterson said. "I'm not waiting until next year. I want you to see improvements against Syracuse.''That has to start with the pass defense, which ranked No. 119 out of 120 FBS teams in both yards allowed and passing efficiency. Patterson is in no position to change players, of course. The Mountaineers essentially have four cornerbacks and they've all played and all failed to varying degrees.But he can tweak some things and give those defensive backs some help."It's going to be a process,'' Patterson said. "First you have to get guys to understand the concepts of what we're trying to get done. We'll be very multiple in our coverage concepts, and to do that you've got to be multiple, but simple. We'll be aggressive in our techniques and coverages and things like that, depending on down-and-distance situations."You can't just make wholesale changes at this point. But I think you'll see some differences.''Indeed, nearly as impossible as making personnel changes is dramatically altering schemes. While that's possible to some degree - teams change in some ways to fit opponents every week - merely minor tweaks are probably not enough to completely reverse the fortunes of a defense that was so poor all season long.But there will be some changes."Keith has always been a [proponent of the] 3-4 multiple, attacking, blitzing and doing different coverages. We've been doing specific stuff like that all year,'' Holgorsen said. "There will be some changes. There will be some noticeable changes. I can tell you what they are, but if you print them, the people up at Syracuse are going to start working on it. But we've had good talks and I like where it's at.''So how is Patterson different than DeForest? Well, for starters this isn't his first rodeo as a coordinator, having handled the role at Tulsa and Pitt.
"I think I'm just different in a lot of ways, so I just have to coach to my style and things that I'm used to doing and things that have allowed me to be successful over the course of my career,'' Patterson said. "I just try to get guys to try and develop my mentality from the standpoint of being aggressive and attacking, yet being sound fundamentally and being a disciplined group of people.''And in such a short time?"With bowl preparation you've got guys taking finals and it's not like fall camp,'' Patterson said. "So we're just spoon feeding it as we go.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1