WVU football: Mountaineer defense to be active in opener
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Keith Patterson spent the offseason engineering a pretty significant reconstruction of a defense that needed just that. When the planning ends and the playing begins Saturday against William & Mary, West Virginia's defensive coordinator will withhold nothing.
Not against an FCS opponent. Not with a Big 12 opener against the nation's No. 16-ranked team waiting a week later in Norman, Okla.
"I don't believe in that philosophy," said Patterson, the linebackers coach who was the co-coordinator last season. "We're going to play to win every single rep, every single play. I don't think you can sit there and hold things back. It's not going to be a secret for long. It's going to be on film eventually."
So when the defense debuts at Mountaineer Field for the noon kickoff on Fox Sports 1, the Mountaineers will play their 3-4, their 4-3 and their 3-3-5. They'll blitz more, they'll cover receivers tighter and they'll ask safeties to play closer to the action.
"That's just what we do," Patterson said.
WVU's defense was much more generic last season. As the games dragged on and the problems stacked up at a rate that outflanked the solutions, the defense played in a more simplified manner than it did to start. To address the limitations of youth, injuries and ineffectiveness, coaches made life easier on the players by removing many things.
That made it easier on opposing offenses, though. The Mountaineers could morph from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but doing so often tipped their intentions.
"The thing where I think we were pretty predictable was determining who was our fourth rusher," Patterson said.
The defense, whether led by Patterson or his predecessor, Joe DeForest, wanted to send four players to the offensive backfield on just about every snap. Yet they had no threat from the middle linebackers or cornerbacks and rarely blitzed safeties, who were usually deep in coverage.
That left the two outside linebackers.
If Josh Francis stepped closer to the line, offenses knew he was coming. If not, then Terance Garvin was the one the defense had to block.
Patterson wanted to fix that, which meant getting better at the 3-4, but also developing in a way to make the 4-3 more credible. He needed to add players and he needed returning players to adapt.
"I think we hit it on the head," he said.
It began with trusting veterans to become reliable parts of the plan. The focus in the offseason was in the middle. WVU had Isaiah Bruce, who was second on the team in tackles last season, but who was also a redshirt freshman who wore down as the season progressed.
And privately, Patterson knew he was going to move Bruce outside. That meant sophomore Nick Kwiatkoski, a high school safety, was going to have to bulk up and junior Jared Barber and senior Doug Rigg would have to accept Patterson's plan, which was going to ask them all to be ready to blitz and pressure.
"Jared and Doug have done a tremendous job getting themselves in better condition - they had a great spring and summer," Patterson said. "And Kwiatkoski has just changed the way he looks. He's 235 pounds now. He looks like a linebacker now. With those guys there, moving Isaiah outside really stabilized that whole position."
Bruce isn't a new player, but he's at a new position. He's quick and can navigate blocking in space, which Patterson believes will unlock new productivity at Spur. He's one of three additions that give Patterson's plan potential.
The other two are new parts plucked from junior college and primed for big roles this season. Opposite Bruce as the Buck linebacker is Brandon Golson. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Golson played only four games last season at Georgia Military Academy and made only 30 tackles in two seasons there, but was one of WVU's top recruiting coups.
"What is there not to like?" Patterson said. "He's aggressive. He plays hard. He's physical. He's got all the tools you look for at that outside linebacker position.
"You can drop him into coverage, you can bring him off the edge and he's physical enough to stop the run. He absolutely has all the intangibles you look for in an outside linebacker."
While Golson is slated to start, defensive end Dontrill Hyman, an All-American in 2011 at Hinds (Miss.) Community College, is a backup for now who nevertheless fits what Patterson needed. A year ago, WVU played one defensive end, one nose guard and one defensive tackle because they didn't have enough true defensive ends to play ends next to the nose guard.
The 6-4, 265-pound Hyman changes that.
"At Golson's position, I wouldn't say it's necessarily easier, but maybe you can get on the field quicker at that outside linebacker position than down in the trenches," Patterson said. "We have a definitive plan for how we teach fundamentals and footwork there that's probably different than the previous school, but he's going to play.
"And the more he plays, the better he's going to get and the more you're going to see of him. This is a 6-4 defensive end who is long and rangy and really athletic outside."
What Patterson sees now is a defense that has options for the fourth rusher to accompany the defensive line. He said it could be any of the remaining eight players on defense and that there could be one or two additional players to join the rush.
"I think we're close," Patterson said. "I really, really like how our kids are enjoying playing in the scheme. They've bought in and they believe in what we're doing. Now it's a matter of going out and executing under the gun."
* * *RUNNING BACK Andrew Buie has left school for the semester, but is expected to return in the spring, Coach Dana Holgorsen said during his call-in show.
The junior led the Mountaineers with 851 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground last season, but was not on the William and Mary game depth chart revealed this week. Holgorsen said Buie would redshirt to "develop mentally and physically and we're just going to leave it at that."
University of Houston transfer Charles Sims is slated to start at running back Saturday.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.