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West Virginia Counts On New Defensive Scheme
August 16, 2012
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Based on his coaching stops at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, Dana Holgorsen knows about the Big 12 Conference. The West Virginia coach knows that his wide-open offense is a perfect fit. And he knows what a defense needs to be successful.

"A short memory," he said, without cracking a smile. "When you're playing defense against teams in the Big 12, you've got to understand that you're gonna give up some points and some yards. You just can't let it bother you."

"You're going to give up big plays. It doesn't mean that the game's over. You just got to keep playing defensively. I think we've got some guys in place that understand that."

With senior quarterback Geno Smith running an offense that rolled up 70 points in an Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, the Mountaineers should have no problem when they have the ball. West Virginia's defense is considered the weak link on the 2012 team.

"We like it when people think that way," junior defensive lineman Will Clarke said. "It's motivation when people are saying you're not that good, that you're going to struggle. As a unit, we're more comfortable and confident than we were last year."

In 2011, the Mountaineers allowed 27 points and 348 yards per game but allowed 49, 47 and 38 points in their three losses. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left to join the staff at Arizona and he took his unique 3-3-5 defense with him.

Holgorsen hired Joe DeForest from Oklahoma State to be West Virginia's co-defensive coordinator. The Cowboys last season allowed over 100 yards per game more than the Mountaineers but limited opponents to 27 points a game. The difference? Oklahoma State led the nation by forcing 44 turnovers a game.

DeForest is preaching the same selfish style. He wants West Virginia to force at least three turnovers a game. Also his knowledge of the Big 12's potent offenses should help the Mountaineers prepare for their first season in a new league.

"It's a big advantage," Clarke said. "He knows exactly how to prepare. We really trust him."

The Bounce-Back Factor
With a co-Big East title, a memorable Orange Bowl victory and a 10-win season, West Virginia gave Dana Holgorsen plenty to remember from his first season as a head coach. What Holgorsen will remember about the 2011 Mountaineers was their resiliency.

"When you get down, being able to respond," he said. "We had a tough loss to LSU early in the year and came back and won the next game. We had a disappointing Friday night loss against Syracuse and came back to beat a really good Rutgers team. Tough loss to Louisville, we won the next game."

After the Louisville loss, West Virginia had no margin for error in the Big East race. The Mountaineers followed the 38-35 loss to the Cardinals with three consecutive conference victories by a total of seven points. That three-game winning streak to close the season gave West Virginia the Big East's BCS bid and led to a 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Short Yardage
* Holgorsen, who is going into his second year as West Virginia's coach, recently signed a six-year contract that will pay him $2.3 million this season. He will receive annual raises of $200,000 in the second and third years of the contract, and $100,000 in the fourth and fifth years. The contract will pay at least $2.6 million for Holgorsen's assistant coaches that will increase at least three percent each year and at least five percent if the Mountaineers reach a bowl game.

* Senior quarterback Geno Smith, who was named by the media the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year, is one of five quarterbacks featured on Sports Illustrated regional covers for the magazine's college football preview. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is also a regional cover boy.

* Holgorsen on Smith: "I don't want to put too much pressure on him, he puts enough pressure on himself, but he has improved everything. His footwork is better, his arm strength is better, his quickness is better, his release is better, his accuracy is better, he's really improved his game and it shows out there. He's much more comfortable obviously in the second year of the offense. He is more comfortable from a mental standpoint. From a physical standpoint, he has improved himself."

* Linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson on the Mountaineers switching to a 3-4 defense: "We are trying to develop a mindset. It is like building a house. You have to build the foundation, and that is really all we did during the spring. They are starting to understand the scheme a bit more, and we are trying to give them things that are a little more complex.''

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