WVU football: Patterson's foresight, players' knowledge has helped defensive turnaround
WACO, Texas -- West Virginia's defense is doing something extremely interesting and no less important that explains its improvement so far this season. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 36 among the 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring defense, No. 37 in total defense and No. 31 in pass defense. We'll save the hauntings for the end of the month and simply say that in 2012, WVU wasn't near any of those numbers.
It's why the Mountaineers (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) enter Saturday's 8 p.m. game against No. 17 Baylor convinced they won't be overwhelmed by what the Bears (3-0) do on offense.
Kickoff is at Floyd Casey Stadium is at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
"We're not looking to contain them," safety Darwin Cook said. "We're looking to stop them."
Again, WVU has a chance because it does something that makes all of the success make sense. It's not way defensive coordinator Keith Patterson's 3-4 morphs to a 4-3 or a 3-3-5. It's not the attacking blitzes or the refusal to play quarters coverage.
It's not playing 190-pound freshman Marvin Gross as a blitzer who interior offensive linemen can't touch, nor is it playing his safeties as cornerbacks and his cornerbacks as safeties from time to time.
It's that WVU is never surprised because of Patterson.
"I feel like he knows what to call in every situation," cornerback Ishmael Banks said. "He just knows what the offense is going to run. He does a lot of film study." A year ago, the Mountaineers would admit after some losses that they saw things in the game they never saw before it. Part of that was part of the indoctrination to the Big 12 and part of it was using so many first-time and first-year players who maybe didn't fully understand how to get ready for a game, but part of it was also coaching.
You now never hear the Mountaineers say they were shocked by what the opponent did. In the first game, Cook sealed the win against William & Mary with an interception, but that limits the significance of the play. Patterson told Cook all week that if the Tribe used these players and lined up like this, then he needed to line up there because he could sneak in under the receiver's route and pick off a pass.
It happened exactly as Patterson promised.
And ask yourself if last week the Mountaineers looked at all startled by what the Cowboys were doing on offense. There was a 73-yard touchdown, but Patterson said he cost his team seven points by blitzing from the same side of the field where the screen started.
There was a touchdown pass to a slot receiver in the middle of the field, but Cook probably should have tackled the receiver inside the 5-yard line. There was a clever pass to a fullback out of the three-back formation, the sort of thing WVU never does with the same set. It went for a touchdown, but there was also a linebacker pulled out of position by a play action pass.
The Mountaineers weren't perfect, but they weren't clueless, either, and they certainly knew what to expect because of what Coach Dana Holgorsen knew about the Cowboys offense he shaped as the coordinator in 2010. This week, it's Baylor and Coach Art Briles, who Holgorsen worked with on the staff at Texas Tech and who he followed at the University of Houston after Briles left as the head coach there to take over at Baylor. Holgorsen has watched Briles' offense since he was winning state titles at Stephenville High in Texas.
But Holgorsen also hired Patterson specifically because of the way Patterson had defended Holgorsen's offenses and how Holgorsen believed that would translate to the Big 12. Give Patterson a week, one without the 20-hour limit the student-athletes aren't allowed to surpass, and the thought within the Puskar Center is he'll figure out something to stop the other team's offense.
"He prepares us from Sunday to Saturday morning," defensive end Will Clarke said. "We watch a lot of film. We go over schemes a lot. It's a lot of repetition - a lot of repetition."
Only some of that is unusual. A lot of coaches will start to whisper about the upcoming opponent the day after the last game ended. On Tuesday, coordinators share their game plan and they're rehearsed throughout practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There's film every day, too, either of the opponent or of the way preparations looked in practice.
Patterson keeps his players busy Friday at the team hotel, either in Morgantown or on the road. The defense gets together in a room to watch some more film and then Patterson gets particular.
"He goes around the room and makes us stand up and state what we should do on certain plays and when we see certain formations," Banks said. "He goes by position. That helps us a lot because you know what everyone else knows."
The Mountaineers sleep on that, but get together one last time before they leave the hotel for the game. Patterson reviews the opposition's tendencies and reminds players who and what to take away during certain plays.
"Then he shows us more film and he usually gives us a nice speech that gets our blood boiling," Banks said. "He keeps us prepared. He keeps us on our toes."
The Friday night activity isn't new, though Patterson's inquisitiveness has opened eyes among players and makes them make sure they aren't without answers if their names are called. The Saturday sessions are new, but so are these results to many of the players.
Young or old, they realize it's all connected.
"I just feel he's a good person, a good motivator," Cook said. "I feel like since he tries so hard for us a lot of people want to give everything for him. We know how much he really cares. He reassures you. Every week he tells you he loves you and cares about you and you can see it. It's really good just playing for him."