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Harris: WVU must improve defense

Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett catches a long pass Saturday in front of West Virginia cornerback Pat Miller at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia lost, 55-14.

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Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, 10:04 p.m.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen knows offense.

This we know because of the astounding numbers generated by Geno Smith and Co. this season.

When we think of the Mountaineers, we think offense.

When we do happen to think about Holgorsen's defense, it isn't fondly.

Holgorsen hired not one but two defensive coordinators: Joe DeForest spent 11 years in the Big 12 before coming to Morgantown, W.Va., and Keith Patterson has always given Holgorsen's offenses fits.

It's Holgorsen's offense. But it's his defense too.

As much as Holgorsen is considered an offensive guru, his reputation as a defensive outsider persists.

He admitted as much before the start of the season when he said, “The day I got announced as the head coach, my first objective was to sit down and get to know the defensive guys. You gotta get to know them. You've got to figure out what makes them tick.”

Seven games into his second season at WVU, Holgorsen is still trying to figure out what makes his defense — ranked last against the pass at No. 120 in the FBS — tick.

“Defensively, we have to get better at everything we do,” Holgorsen said about a unit that has yielded 63, 55, 49, 45 and 34 points in games this season.

As good as his offense has performed, Holgorsen's defense has been equally bad.

“We have tried to cover some areas up,” Holgorsen said. “Within our defensive scheme, there are different coverages and blitzes. If it doesn't work, we can go to another one. It is a multiple defense. We mix things up, but it ultimately comes down to execution.”

Holgorsen is thinking more like a defensive coach. But it's during times like these that he falls back on his offensive roots.

When defensive players are in position but fail to make plays — which has occurred far too often this year — Holgorsen said the coaching staff is at fault.

“You saw where a couple of times the ball was in the air, and we had a guy there. (WVU's opponent) made the plays,” Holgorsen said. “How can we get our guys in any better position than that? As an offensive play-caller, I go back to this: If you guys are going to rely on us as coaches to make the perfect call every time, then we are going to fail you. Nobody can make a perfect call every time.”

Some of the time, however, would be nice.

Optimism remains despite the Mountaineers averaging only 14 points during their two-game losing streak. That's because the offense averaged 52 points in its first five games. This year's offense has a track record for success. Whatever problems that exist are correctable.

But how do you fix a defense that never worked in the first place? Is it a defense worth fixing?

None of that matters because there are still five games and hopefully a bowl game remaining to be played.

What matters is Holgorsen somehow getting his defense to perform like his offense has for most of the season.

Even in its worst days, Holgorsen's offense gives the opposition something to think about. It's time for Holgorsen's defense to start doing the same.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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