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WVU defense motivated after 'embarrassing' 2012

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A jovial man of more than 300 pounds, Shaq Rowell can't help but grin while he's talking. Even when it's about his personal mandate to carry a “nasty” disposition.

“You can't be nice on the field,” West Virginia's senior defensive tackle said Friday. “That's for the offense, to be nice. If you want to be a good defense, you've got to try to get nasty.”

Then again, you'd be ornery, too, if you endured the kind of season the Mountaineers' defense did last year.

The only thing nasty about West Virginia's defense was its national rankings: 114th in scoring defense, 108th in total defense, 118th in passing defense. The unit barely gave a top-10 prolific offense a chance — the Mountaineers were torched by Big 12 opponents to the tune of 43.3 points per game.

“Personally,” fellow defensive tackle Will Clarke said, “it was pretty embarrassing.”

Unlike the Mountaineers' offense, the defense returns plenty of experience. Seven players have at least 11 career starts and 13 on the two-deep depth chart have started at least one game.

“If (last season) doesn't motivate you, then I don't feel like you're in the right mode of thinking,” senior cornerback Brodrick Jenkins said. “If you're complacent with that, then you're not trying to get better.”

Rowell said “the defense dominated” in drills against the offense during the first practice of camp Thursday. Head coach Dana Holgorsen — an offensive guy by heart — came away “impressed.”

“We're so much deeper and so much more experienced, and it shows,” Holgorsen said of the defense. “We had about three-deep repping out there. I can't remember ever having one and a half deep last year.”

That was Holgorsen referencing 2012 on his own. When asked about it by a media member soon after, he quickly interrupted.

“Do we have to talk about last year? I'd rather talk about 2013,” Holgorsen said. “We all understand the situation we were in last year. We're not going to keep focusing on what happened defensively in 2012. It's a lot of the same people, who are now a year older. It's really pretty close to the same system, and we have a lot more depth. So I'm pretty excited about where we're at.”

The defense has had an offseason under coordinator Keith Patterson, promoted late last season. Players say Patterson is simplifying the calls.

“We're going straightforward now instead of stepping sideways and then going forward,” Rowell said.

Patterson, who was Pitt's interim head coach for the 2012 BBVA Compass Bowl, is the Mountaineers' third defensive coordinator over the past three seasons.

Jenkins said Patterson's demeanor and mentality is more akin to Jeff Casteel, WVU's defensive coordinator from 2003-11.

“We're going to be back to being very physical this year,” sophomore safety Karl Joseph said.

All part of that “nastiness,” right? West Virginia's defense was far from intimidating last season; now, it strives to be scare more than just weary scoreboard operators.

“Last year I'm sure when teams prepared to play us it was more of a ‘Let's get ready to have a great game on their defense,' ” Clarke said. “This year we want it to be more like fearing to play us.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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