WVU football: Defense still searching for answers
FORT WORTH, Texas - When West Virginia emerged from an open week to play Texas Tech, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson could only hope his players were recovered from a 73-42 loss and an experience "unlike anything I've ever been associated with in my life."
That didn't happen and the Mountaineers surrendered 21 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes of a loss to Texas Tech.
Patterson brought WVU to Kansas State last week and again hoped the defense had recovered from another shock to its self-esteem. It was a 12-7 lead in the third quarter. The Wildcats had eight first downs and 169 yards of offense and, as far as Patterson was concerned, not a lot going their way.
"We were just totally in control," Patterson said. "I'm thinking, 'Maybe today is our day. Maybe something good is going to happen to us.' "
Kansas State instead ripped off four straight touchdown drives, converted their final seven third downs of the game and had 279 yards of offense. The climax made the 35-12 loss "maybe one of the strangest games I've been associated with," Patterson said.
The Wildcats had been 1-for-6 on third down that game and had only scored 21, 29 and 25 points in their first three Big 12 games.
"I've never seen where seven plays lead to something of such a catastrophic proportion," Patterson said. "Seven plays on those drives that led to 28 points? I'm just going, 'How do you hold someone for 21/2 quarters to seven points and 150 yards and then the next four possessions allow 300 yards of offense and 28 points? How do you do that? You almost have to try to do that.'"
Now Patterson's defense has to try to reverse the troubling trend of unprecedented events and unsettling performances to end a three-game losing streak and help the Mountaineers reach a bowl for a 12th consecutive season.
WVU plays TCU and its scuffling offense at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPNU. Both teams are 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big 12 and need to win three of their final four games to be bowl eligible.
To get over themselves and their recent past, the Mountaineers are starting quite literally with a blank slate. Patterson wiped clean the dry erase board he uses to track his defense's performance in key categories throughout the season. Gone are the results from the first eight games. All that's left are blanks under the categories for the final four games.
"There are plenty of negatives to go around," Patterson said. "I just said, 'Hey, the bottom line is we're down to a four-game season. It doesn't matter what we've done to this point, good or bad. Let's just try to focus on the next four football games and try to get better every week.' It's a fresh start."
The Horned Frogs welcomed back preseason all-Big 12 quarterback Casey Pachall last week after he missed five games with a broken left arm. They're still ranked No. 114 nationally in total offense, No. 92 in scoring offense, No. 102 in rushing offense and No. 99 in passing offense.
Patterson's defense ranks No. 102 in total defense, No. 85 in scoring, No. 91 against the run and No. 100 against the pass.
In the spotlight, though, will be what happens on third down. TCU converts only 28.57 percent of the time to rank No. 114. Since going 7-for-13 against LSU in the opener, the Horned Frogs haven't converted more than 39 percent of the time and have been below 19 percent three times.
WVU allows opponents to convert 44.09 percent of the time, which ranks No. 111. In its lone Big 12 win, WVU held Oklahoma State to 6-for-20. In the three-game losing streak that's followed, Baylor was 11-for-16, Texas Tech was 9-for-15 and Kansas State was 8-for-13.
Patterson said he and his players were spooked across the final seven third downs against the Wildcats. The first two were the same play call, but both times the blitz missed. On the first, linebacker Isaiah Brice arrived a tick too late. On the second, Bruce was rerouted when a defensive lineman went the wrong way and forced Bruce to take a longer route.
On the third, a third-and-goal at WVU's 9-yard line, Patterson called a new play and cringed when Bruce jumped out of a position to track a running back and safety Karl Joseph moved out of his spot to cover up Bruce's move. It allowed quarterback Daniel Sams to find receiver Tyler Lockett open in the back of the end zone.
"Karl probably would have intercepted it because it went right where he was," Patterson said. "From then, it just went south. You could see it in their eyes. 'Here we go again.' You could see it."
Aware that everything was working against the Mountaineers again, Patterson said he ended up calling different plays on the final five third downs. It was a deviation from his philosophy because Patterson wants to force his style on the defense and not cater to the offense.
"What shakes your confidence is when you call something and it doesn't work," he said. "Then you become a little hesitant sometimes to go back to it. You probably second-guess yourself on the call, but when you're clicking and you've got confidence, if I'm having success I'm going to keep it up until they show me something.
"But when all of a sudden you sit there and go, 'Uh oh, that's two in a row they converted,' and then you decide to try something else, that's all confidence."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.