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Mike Casazza: Patterson wants to flip script on offenses

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Keith Patterson's resume is long enough that even a simple imagination can run wild thinking about all the coaches who have influenced the West Virginia defensive coordinator's career.

We are, after all, 10 schools and 26 seasons into this now for a guy who's been hired as a graduate assistant at a NAIA school, a head coach and assistant coach at high schools in Texas and Oklahoma, a defensive coordinator at four Division I schools and even an interim head coach for a bowl game.

So many rungs on that ladder, so much time spent taking notes from clinics, videos and books. There's no way the man asked to reinvent WVU's defense this season after serving as co-coordinator last season hasn't mirrored men he's admired most. This is one of the things people want to know about as Patterson installs his version of a 3-4 defense in closed practices.

He prefers to maintain that privacy when he's away from practice, thank you very much.

"There are some people," he said. "I'd rather not say who, but there are people I study. I'll put it like that. They're similar to what we do in some ways."

So we know there are some major college program's he's mimicked. We know through idle conversation he's a fan of Dick LeBeau and everything he's done with the Pittsburgh Steelers, particularly the way defensive backs combat vertical passes by challenging receivers.

We know he's always kept an eye on Dana Holgorsen and what he did to offenses before and after Holgorsen moved to Houston and Conference USA, where Patterson was working with Tulsa.

Holgorsen, though, is an offensive guy. The WVU coach is not like the peers Patterson has imitated or like LeBeau, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive player and coach.

There's value in that, and sure enough Patterson learned it long ago when he was reaching for that next rung. The year was 2000 and he was an assistant coach at Allen High in Texas when the Eagles welcomed a special guest, one of the hot names in coaching: Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

"He absolutely changed the way I coached," Patterson said. "He changed the way I played defense."

Patterson believed what others still do, that what Rodriguez got going at Glenville State and brought to Tulane and Clemson revolutionized college football offenses. This was option football with wing-T principles and just enough misdirection to screw up every defense.

"We brought him in for three days and I just listened to him," Patterson said. "I sat there and just took notes."

If Rodriguez was going to change offense, he was going to make a defensive coach's life miserable. Right there, Patterson began to understand that to flip the script he needed to know what made Rodriguez miserable.

Three years later, Patterson moved to Tulsa and was settled in as co-defensive coordinator in 2007 when the Golden Hurricane hired Gus Malzahn as the co-offensive coordinator. The coaching staff would get together and share overviews of the entire offense and defense.

Patterson paid the most attention to what Malzahn didn't like.

Soon the offensive coordinator for the Auburn team that won the 2010 national title and now the Tigers head coach, Malzahn liked quick throws and single coverage to the short side of the field.

To this day, Patterson won't give an opponent that and will have his cornerback thump that receiver to take away that quick throw and the easy yards. He prefers to bring pressure from the other side of the field.

Malzahn was also very good with the zone read, which wasn't much different from what Rodriguez had done, though Malzahn might use a fullback to lead. Patterson again wouldn't let that happen and would scoot a cornerback up and give him up to the fullback. In the 3-4, there was still an inside and an outside linebacker to make the tackle against one blocker.

Chad Morris would come to Tulsa two years after Malzahn left and Patterson would apply the same study habits, confident again that Tulsa's offensive coordinator was on the cutting edge -- and proven correct again by what Morris is doing at Clemson and how it shares the principles of other spread offenses throughout the country and the Big 12.

"When I studied spread offenses and Dana and Malzahn and Chad, I said, 'I've got to put somebody in the B gap,' " Patterson said.

The B gap is the alley between an offensive guard and tackle. Patterson saw it to be the throwing lane most quarterbacks exploited in the spread offense. He now tries to close that opening by positioning defenders there.

"If there's going to be a window, it's going to be a small window," he said. "So I play tight, hard coverage into the boundary and I try to get people into the throwing lanes and make people be precise."

The rest of Patterson's playbook reads much the same, written by the offensive minds WVU's defensive coordinator has studied most.

"I'd sit there and listen to those guys and listen to them talk about what they tell their quarterback," Patterson said. "Whatever they'd tell their quarterback, I'd say, 'OK, I'm going to do the opposite.' Over the course of time, a long period of time, I've tried to develop everything they don't want."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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