Harris: Holgorsen's headaches came thanks to 'D'

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 12:38 a.m.

West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen began his staff purge a year too late.

Mind you, Holgorsen — who reassigned his defensive coordinator/good friend and fired two other defensive assistants faster than you can say “no-huddle offense” — is making up for lost time.

I'm just wondering why Holgorsen didn't have a better feel for his team earlier.

Was it because Holgorsen is so rigidly wedged to his offense and had so much confidence in Geno Smith and Co. it didn't matter that his defense wasn't equipped to slow down Big 12 offenses, much less stop them?

Was that why Holgorsen hired Joe DeForest — who helped him become offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State — despite DeForest having no experience as a defensive coordinator?

It was awkward seeing Holgorsen demote DeForest prior to the Pinstripe Bowl considering their personal relationship, but business is business. It was even more distressing when Syracuse racked up 507 total yards — including 369 yards on the ground — in a 38-14 win over the Mountaineers in Keith Patterson's debut as defensive coordinator.

Equally distressing was Patterson sounding much like DeForest did throughout the season when attempting to explain another defensive failure.

“They were breaking tackles — it's hard to explain,” Patterson said. “Bottom line, it boils down to execution.”

And talent. Among Big 12 teams, WVU ranks in the lower half in talent.

The 2012 Mountaineers were loaded on offense and barren on defense.

Next year's defense should improve, but the offense won't be as good.

That's on the head coach who's earning more than $2 million a year.

Instead of challenging anyone who dares question his coaching acumen, Holgorsen should be more concerned with squandering one of the greatest offensive seasons in college football history.

“All of a sudden, our scheme is not very good,” Holgorsen said sarcastically in response to his offensive strategy against Syracuse.

No, coach, it goes much deeper than that.

Holgorsen will coach for a long time before he has three players such as Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey on the same team again.

And when he does, hopefully he will field a more complementary defense.

No matter what Holgorsen or any of his assistants claim about being young and undermanned on defense, senior center Jeff Braun said the players — particularly the seniors — fully expected WVU to contend for a national championship in 2012.

Instead, the Mountaineers finished 7-6, thanks to ranking No. 109 nationally in total defense and No. 119 out of 120 teams in passing defense.

Embarrassing. WVU finished No. 10 in passing offense and No. 11 in total offense.

No one is questioning Holgorsen's ability as a football coach. It's why he was hired at West Virginia in the first place. Among offensive minds in the college ranks, Holgorsen is as good as it gets.

What we don't know yet is whether Holgorsen will be a successful head coach with players that he's personally recruited. Or if he can put together a strong coaching staff, especially on defense. Or if he can properly motivate his players.

Motivation was a problem for WVU in losses against Texas Tech, Kansas State and Syracuse. The Mountaineers were outscored, 142-42, in those three games.

“They were motivated to play,” Holgorsen said about Syracuse.

Which means, of course, that the Mountaineers weren't motivated to play against a hated opponent in a bowl game players and coaches said meant a lot to everyone associated with the program.

That also falls on Holgorsen.

Firing defensive assistants Steve Dunlap and Daron Roberts while promoting Patterson to defensive coordinator diverts attention from a coach still new on the job who's discovering that offense may win games, but defense wins championships.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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