MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On Monday, West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged the situation his offense faces for the 2013 season as a collection of still unsorted and unproven players replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
"How are we going to score a point without three of the best players that ever played the game here?" Holgorsen said.
On Aug. 31, the Mountaineers will attempt to answer that question with as many as nine new starters on offense. They'd appreciate assistance from a defense that, most who observed last season would agree, has to be dramatically different.
"I think the defense is going to be dramatically different," Holgorsen said. "Anytime you play that many young guys, you're bound to get better next year."
That's the foundation of the argument that supposes WVU should be able to stop opponents more frequently than it did a season ago, which witnessed the growing pains that come with a new defense and a new staff of coaches. In the first game of the season, four defensive players started for the first time. In the final game of a regular season that witnessed so many struggles, so many freshmen, so many ideas and so many changes, two defenders started for the first time.
Seven defensive starters and 12 of the 15 players with more than one tackle in the Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse should play in the 2013 opener against William & Mary.
"Sometimes," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said, "having everyone back is not always a good thing."
Good or bad, it's the thing WVU has to deal with during preseason practice. The Mountaineers have more bodies to choose from on defense and those bodies are stronger and more seasoned than they were last fall. The Mountaineers played seven true freshmen on defense last season. Patterson said last week that he thought it would be difficult for freshmen to get significant playing time at the start of the 2013 season.
There are only a few first-year players who have a shot on defense. Apart from freshman cornerback Daryl Worley and freshman linebacker Hodari Christian, they're junior college transfers Dontrill Hyman at defensive end and Brandon Golson at linebacker.
And that's about it.
"Losing Bruce Irvin, Keith Tandy, Julian Miller and Najee Goode was tough," Holgorsen said. "Those guys played a lot of football here the previous year. The year before that, another six or seven guys went to the NFL. So we were replacing a lot of guys."