WVU football: Mountaineer defense shifts focus to Texas Tech
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Every once in a while, Melissa Patterson will visit a West Virginia football practice and have a look at someone she thinks she knows, but doesn't recognize.
When the practice ends, the stranger puts his arm around her shoulders, but she can't shrug off what she feels.
"Why are you always hollering at them?" she asks.
It is then when her husband comes back into focus.
"I'm not hollering," Keith Patterson will say. "I'm coaching."
For 28 years as an assistant and a head coach in high school and as a position coach and a coordinator in college, that's what Patterson has known. For two seasons, that's what he's done at West Virginia. This year, he prowls the sidelines as the team's defensive coordinator with a visor shielding intense eyes and a whistle that's sometimes allowed to replace a scratchy voice.
"What people don't see behind the scenes are the relationships," Patterson said. "What they see is what transpires on game day and what transpires in practice.
"You're playing in front of 80,000 people at times, 65,000 people. You've got to put pressure on them. I tell them a diamond doesn't become a diamond without intense heat and pressure. Look, I want a bunch of diamonds."
Exactly what Patterson has this season isn't entirely clear, not after allowing 73 points in a game just one week after giving up only 21 points and scoring a defensive touchdown to help upset the No. 11 team in the country.
Yet the Mountaineers are better on defense, and were ranked No. 36 among the 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring defense, No. 37 in total defense and No. 31 in pass defense after beating Oklahoma State. Those ranking were dashed when Baylor scored more points than any other opponent has in 109 years against the Mountaineers.
"I was calling the same things we called the first five weeks of the season, but you have to play with great energy and you have to play with great intensity," Patterson said. "That's my responsibility as a coach, make no mistake. I'm not going to put the blame on anybody buy myself. I'm the one who has to bring that out in my players and I obviously didn't do that."
It's easy to evaluate WVU's defense and note and commend improvements. The Mountaineers do different things with their defensive fronts and their coverages and they play a more aggressive style, but one change stands out among the others. Patterson is in charge.
A year ago, he was the co-coordinator, but one who delegated to Joe DeForest, who was demoted at the end of the season and later reassigned to coordinate the special teams. Patterson's about as eager as a prevent defense to take credit for what he's so far done to the Mountaineers. He's always excited to highlight the way his players play and he's consistently careful to make sure no one thinks it's because of him.
"I can tell you this: It's the way I was raised," said Patterson, a native of Marlow, Okla., who earned four letters as a defensive back playing college football in his home state at East Central. "I led my high school team in rushing, touchdowns, interceptions, tackles, all that stuff. I punted. I returned punts.
"When the time came, I wasn't nominated for all-state by my own high school coach. And you know what? It didn't bother me. I played the game for all the right reasons. I was, I don't know, a team player to the fullest extent. I've never been a guy who has to have the credit."
Patterson nevertheless has an opportunity to escape more praise or accept more criticism Saturday. WVU (3-2, 1-2 Big 12) plays host to No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0) at noon at Mountaineer Field. The Homecoming game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
The Red Raiders are led by first-year Coach Kliff Kingsbury, who played quarterback for Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen when they were at Texas Tech. They rank No. 13 in scoring offense, No. 3 in passing offense and No. 6 in total offense.
And they are precisely the reason Holgorsen hired Patterson. Holgorsen knew Patterson from his work at Tulsa when Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. When Jeff Casteel left WVU after the 2011 season to rejoin Rich Rodriguez as Arizona's defensive coordinator, Holgorsen desperately wanted someone who understood how to stop the offenses WVU was about to encounter on a regular basis in the Big 12.
He pried Patterson away from Arkansas State, where he'd just been named the defensive coordinator.
"Defensive is a mentality," Patterson said. "Where most people react to what they see, I try to attack what I see. Instead of reacting, I try to attack what I see instead of adjusting to it. A lot of coaches spend a whole lot of time sitting around making adjustments. I want to spend my time making them adjust to what I do."
It's a logical tactic and one he picked up in his year as Pitt's defensive coordinator. In 2011, his Panthers held Holgorsen's first WVU team to a season-low 21 points - or the same as LSU - and flaunted some of the tips he'd picked up from sharing the football facility with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"When I was meeting with him, he said, 'Keith, give those offensive guys something to work on,' " Patterson said. "That kind of instilled in me that sometimes as coaches we say, 'Gosh, if they do this, we've got to adjust like this.' Well, what if we give them this and make them adjust like that? I think there's a big difference."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.