MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The explanation nobody wants to hear about West Virginia's defense in 2013 is that missing persons played a massive role in how badly the Mountaineers played late in the season.
A lot of people, whether they are fans or foes, coaches or critics, will call it an excuse because attrition is as much a part of football as third downs. But it's impossible to say WVU's performance was not affected by who it didn't have - injured or otherwise.
"I think the biggest problem we had was where we had Terence Garvin last year," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said of Garvin, a senior in 2012 who starred outside at the spur position.
"He played just about every single snap for us there and if we had to, we could spell him with Wes Tonkery. Since the Oklahoma game, I don't think we had the same guy play that nickel/spur spot all year long, so you can't develop. And that's such a critical position."
The Oklahoma game, if you've forgotten, was the second game of the season. WVU used four players there during the game - Isaiah Brue, Tonkery, K.J. Dillon and Marvin Gross - and had a lot of turnover there in the final 10 games. And it is a critical position, a combination of a linebacker and a defensive back who can match up against Big 12 offenses to stop the run and cover receivers.
Bruce was one of the team's most productive defensive players in 2012, but as a middle linebacker. He moved to spur in the summer and didn't perform nearly as well as he did inside, though WVU didn't really use him like it used Garvin, which meant WVU didn't really replace Garvin's position, never mind performance.
Tonkery and Dillon are natural defensive backs who are better suited for the dual responsibilities of the position the way WVU uses it than was Bruce, but were eventually lost to season-ending injuries. Gross has the look of a pass-rushing linebacker, more of a buck than a spur, and was innocently overwhelmed at times as a true freshman who WVU would have rather redshirted.
The Mountaineers were made to scramble at spur for most of the season and compromise their defense and game plans by putting new and unusual pieces into the position. WVU just didn't have the type of player it needed as the season went along.
Actually, they might have, but they couldn't afford to make the move during season that they might make in the spring. Patterson will look at free safety Karl Joseph, whom Patterson believes is a better fit at spur as a player who can blitz, stop the run and cover routes.
That would mean two new safeties after enjoying stability with Joseph and Darwin Cook, a senior in 2013, the past two seasons. To make those changes, Patterson is willing to shake up the cornerback position, which was a mess in 2012, better last season and loses nobody to graduation.