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WVU football: Patterson takes responsibility for loss

NEW YORK - West Virginia's defense allowed Syracuse 511 yards of offense in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl loss, the fifth time this season an opponent topped 500 yards.

Prior to this season, the previous five 500-yard games happened across 10 seasons.

Syracuse's 34 points on offense in the 38-14 win - the Orange had two safeties, something that hadn't happened to WVU since 2002 - marked the ninth time a team managed at least that many points in a game this season. The previous nine 34-point games happened from 2005-11.

In short, WVU's historically bad defense, which had the school's worst scoring defense (38.1) by five points per game and allowed 131 more points this season than in any other season in program history, wasn't much different at the end of the schedule than it had been otherwise.

There was a variance, though. It was Keith Patterson, who Coach Dana Holgorsen promoted to defensive coordinator Dec. 2 in place of the demoted Joe DeForest, and who would have to explain how in the world it had happened. Again.

"Apparently I didn't do a good job getting the guys to understand how important it was to stop them," Patterson said.

During the offseason, which begins right away for a team with so many things it needs to fix, Patterson will take a long look at both the system and the roster. He has problems with both. The Mountaineers contend they weren't surprised or unprepared for anything Syracuse did on offense. Not after playing the Orange last year. Not after studying film since learning of the bowl matchup the day Patterson was elevated to his new role.

Syracuse had 369 yards rushing, the fifth-best total ever against WVU.

"I thought we had a very good understanding of the game plan and of what to expect," Patterson said. "We knew they were going to run a split zone any time they'd get into a wing or a bunch formation. We knew that they were going to run the split zone. But they executed and we didn't execute defensively.

"The bottom line there is me. I'm the defensive coordinator and I'm responsible for making sure we know how to hit that."

That's noble and precisely what a coach might say, but it doesn't cover the problems. WVU committed a pair of pass interference penalties on third downs to give the Orange a first down.

One was against senior linebacker Terence Garvin, who was too tight with his coverage.

He was supposed to be blitzing on the play.

"That's my responsibility to make sure we understand what our assignments are and what our responsibilities are," Patterson said.

Prince-Tyson Gulley's 33- and 67-yard touchdown runs both came on the split zone play, which is a variation of the zone play WVU likes to run. Both times, Patterson was positive his team not only knew how to stop it, but would stop it. Both times, he watched individuals make errors that turned into touchdowns as Gulley ran away from the rest of the defense.

"On both of those, we did a great job forcing the ball to the edge and bouncing the ball all the way back to the outside," Patterson said. "It ought to be a dead play. But both times we had a linebacker overpursuing the football. Obviously, it's my fault I didn't have those guys understanding you've got to rock back with the split zone."

Blown assignment on a blitz. Hazardous aggression against the run. Not chasing plays down in the secondary. Defensive backs who don't turn and look for the ball. Missed tackles across the field. WVU's scheme on defense was not great this season, but many problems transcended mere alignments.

What Patterson will do to fix that as he moves forward is one matter. Who he does it with is another. WVU loses defensive tackle Jorge Wright, linebackers Garvin and Josh Francis and cornerback Pat Miller from the starting lineup to graduation, but brings back a wealth of young players, including five of the top seven tacklers.

"I think I'll identify those things over the course of the next three to four weeks," he said. "We've got to build a foundation defensively. We have to re-establish an identity just of what we are on defense."

That hasn't started just yet and that's perhaps the best thing to be said about Patterson's debut. It featured only a little of his vision and most of what the Mountaineers did against Syracuse is not indicative of what they'll eventually do.

"We tried to build it just as close to what we've been doing," Patterson said. "You've got kids taking finals, going home for break and them coming back to the bowl site. You don't have that time to really be able to make just wholesale changes."

Patterson wants to be run a "multiple, attacking 3-4 defense" that will blitz and harass the quarterback more, but also change the fronts and the coverages so the offense can never become too comfortable with what the defense is doing.

"You have to be disciplined, you have to be passionate and you have to attack," he said. "I do not believe you can sit there and allow the quarterback to sit back and comb his hair. They're too good, too well versed. The receivers are too good at moving into the open voids."

WVU will need to make plays, whether within the design of the play or with individual effort. The Mountaineers had just 23 sacks and Garvin led the way with six, and a third of that came against the Orange. There were only 10 interceptions - one by a cornerback - and 10 fumble recoveries.

Those problems were highlighted by the many times WVU missed sacks and tackles, dropped interceptions and couldn't recover fumbles, the latter which happened 10 times this season.

Patterson likes long and lean players who can use their ability to create a chance to make a play, but who can also make that play, which is a dire need against the Big 12's offenses. He said he needs to know if he has it on hand.

"You can't just sit there and say, 'Let's squeeze a square peg into a round hole,'" he said. "You have to make sure you have the right guys. You can change that with recruiting. We have to recruit to this system. That's definitely part of it.

"It's part of being underneath the umbrella when you're revamping. 'Here's what we're looking at at linebacker. Here's what we're looking at in the back end. Here's what we're looking at on the line.' Quite honestly, we've done a good job of that the last two recruiting classes."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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