West Virginia defense faces offseason overhaul

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The offenses of the Big 12 were daunting for the West Virginia defense as the Mountaineers played their first season in the conference.

WVU's explosive offense was not capable of always scoring 50 to 70 points a game and posting losses by scores such as 55-34 (to Oklahoma State) revealed glaring deficiencies on defense.

Opponents amassed 500-plus passing yards three times against the Mountaineers defensive backfield, ranked worst in Division I football for most of the year.

Then, in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse of the Big East, the very familiar opponent rushed for 369 yards, beating the Mountaineers 38-14, and debunking the theory that the team's problems were simply rooted in being in a new league.

No matter why, defense held this team back in 2012, and will be a major area of focus in the offseason, according to Oliver Luck, West Virginia's athletic director.

Luck said Friday that changes will be made to improve the defense, including changes to the coaching staff and an emphasis on recruiting for depth.

"Clearly, we need to have a much more stout defense," said Luck. "I don't think any team can expect to simply outscore folks. I think our coaches, including Dana [Holgorsen], understand that. I think we need to continue to improve our recruiting. We're going to lose a handful of talented guys on the offensive side and also the defensive side. We need to continue to upgrade."

Luck said those improvements are connected to changes in the coaching staff, though he declined to share when or how many changes will be made.

"I can't talk about any personnel issues. I think we need to improve our coaching as well. Not sure you can disconnect the two," said Luck. "We need to improve both from our recruiting and what we have in the pipeline. Our depth really wasn't where we needed it to be in order to play in a very competitive conference like the Big 12."

West Virginia finished the season ranked No. 109 in total defense in Division I-A -- No. 119 in passing defense, No. 70 in red-zone defense. Third-down conversion defense ranked No. 103.

The staff came under fire for not getting more out of the players available, especially when it came to basics like sound tackling and basic coverage principles.

Holgorsen made two major changes just days after the regular season ended. He fired cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts and promoted Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator over Joe DeForest.

Graduate assistant Andrew McGee handled the corners on an interim basis to prepare for the bowl game.

More changes appear to be coming.

Luck said he does not want to comment on the scope of those potential changes but did say: "We have a pretty good handle on what we need to do, where we need to get better. We'll make changes."

Holgorsen -- along with all West Virginia coaches -- have the authority to hire their own staff, and January is a critical time for movement in coaching circles.

"The next couple of weeks are an important time. You never know if people are talking to our coaches," Luck said. "Ultimately, it will be [Holgorsen's] decision with my support in terms of doing whatever he believes is necessary to make us more competitive in the conference. We'll let it go from there."

The team has four junior-college players that will arrive on campus when the new semester begins -- two wide receivers, a running back and a safety.

Another recruiting class officially will sign in early February.

The holes on offense will be plenty, with the likes of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey moving on, along with several other starters.

But the holes on defense and lack of depth will be among the most pressing offseason concerns.

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Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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