WVU football: Defense designed to create mistakes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Keith Patterson is drawing heavily on the past three years during his first spring football drills as the team's defensive coordinator.
The varying and aggressive 3-4 defense started to come together in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl when he helped Tulsa thump Hawaii, 62-35.
He ran the 2011 defense at Pittsburgh well enough to be hired by (and work briefly for) Arkansas State before joining the Mountaineers last year as the co-coordinator.
"When we beat the britches off Hawaii, we were doing some things then that I do now," Patterson said. "Then we went to Pitt and it evolved into some other things because of the personnel and the conference. Basically, what we've done is couple all this stuff together and built on a lot of those things.
"As I go back in my mind and find different things we've done over the last few years, that's what I want our defense to look like."
The Golden Hurricane didn't have a great defense in 2010, but ranked No. 2 in turnover margin after forcing 36 turnovers, the third-highest total in the country. Tulsa was No. 3 in total offense and No. 6 in scoring offense and that relationship is a pillar of WVU's plan.
Tulsa was 17-0 when it forced at least three turnovers while Patterson led the defense from 2006-10.
WVU forced three or more turnovers just twice last season and only six times in Coach Dana Holgorsen's first two seasons, but is 5-1 in those games. The loss came last season in double overtime against TCU.
"If we force three or more turnovers, we give ourselves a chance to win 12 games," Patterson said. "I truly believe that."
Pitt ranked in the top 40 in 2011 in total defense (No. 35), scoring defense (No. 38) and run defense (No. 21) and was No. 3 in sacks per game.
The Mountaineers had just 23 sacks in 13 games last season and averaged about half of what Patterson's Pitt defense averaged per game a year earlier.
"We're going to do some things to get to the quarterback," said Patterson, who runs the defense on his own now that last year's defensive coordinator, Joe DeForest, who is coaching special teams. "It may not result in a sack. It may not result in a (tackle for a loss), but it may result in him making a poor decision."
It begins with the front seven and how Patterson uses his defensive line.
The Mountaineers will now play two defensive ends around a nose guard. A year ago, WVU played with a defensive tackle, a nose guard and a defensive end.
The ways Patterson uses them will also change.
Patterson attempts to disturb offenses by giving them something they're not used to seeing in practice or in games.
"I think, honestly, our scheme is going to help us up front," Patterson said.
"It's very unorthodox up front, I will tell you that, compared to most because of the technique we play and how we teach it."
Patterson believes most offenses are going through spring practice and will later go through preseason practice by seeing a three-man defensive line that has a nose guard lined up a little left or right of the center, an end lined up between a guard and a tackle and an end lined up on the other tackle's shoulder or a step wider on a tight end.
"Every team in the country," Patterson said. "At least 95 percent of them."
Patterson will put his nose guard directly across from the center, an end directly across from a tackle and an end in between the other tackle and the guard.
"Who lines up to block that?" Patterson said. "Nobody. I'm going to try to give them something they're not going to find."
The linebackers will be asked to behave differently, too, especially the Buck position Josh Francis played last season. The outside linebackers will give the Mountaineers flexibility and let Patterson play multiple ways.
"We have 3-3 concepts built into the system, we have 3-4 concepts and we have 4-3 concepts," Patterson said. "That's what makes it difficult for an offense. You have basically Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for all those things. It makes a difference if we can execute it.
"It all sounds complex, but the thing that makes it simple is it doesn't affect our coverages. We can call a stunt and it's the same coverage. We can call a front and it's the same coverage. What it does is it changes everyone's responsibilities (on offense) that are predicated on a stunt or on a front."
WVU's coverage players will change a little, too. Patterson will keep Karl Joseph at free safety and Darwin Cook at bandit and he'll ask both to be active. WVU will again have field and boundary cornerbacks.
The field cornerback will play the open side of the field and Patterson says he has to stop three routes: deep post, streak and corner post. The boundary corner on the tighter side of the field has more responsibilities with coverage and against the run.
He has to be physical enough to play close and can't let the quarterback make the quick throw on a short pass for easy yards.
"If you play off the boundary, you're going to get murdered," Patterson said. "We do not ever play loose on the boundary."
Patterson would rather force a quarterback to make a trickier throw across a longer distance to the field side and he'll complicate that by bringing pressure from the field side and congesting the throwing lane between the guard and tackle. He believes the variation with the front seven complicates the offense's decisions.
"You don't know who the fourth rusher is," he said. "Last year, it was pretty easy to identify. It was always, 'It's this guy right here. Let's slide the protection to this guy.' "
Patterson said the back end will play more coverages than it did last season and won't give a quarterback or an offensive coordinator an extended look at one tactic. Where the WVU secondary covered four segments of the field last season, Patterson plans to move safeties and cornerbacks around before and immediately after the snap and use his linebackers underneath the secondary to defend certain patterns.
"Last year we were a quarters team pretty much," he said. "You'll never see me play quarters. You'll see us rolling coverage. You'll see us sinking guys."
To make this work, the Mountaineers still have to stop the run and encourage offenses to pass, and that may be more important in the Big 12 in 2013 with so many new quarterbacks and returning running backs. The pass was WVU's weakness last season, though, and most of the Big 12 offenses remain passing offenses. Patterson trusts his plans will fit with the new way defensive success is measured.
"We say we want to allow 3.5 yards per play, or less," he said. "That means you're giving up 350 yards or less on the season per game. If you'd tell me, 'Coach, you're going to give up less than 350 yards per game next year,' I'd take that right now."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.