MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Nose tackle Shaq Rowell has been fixated on a three-digit number since the end of last season: 118.
That's where West Virginia's pass defense was ranked at the end of the year -- 118 of 120 teams.
He logged onto a computer one night, and looked it up.
"Every player on the team should know where we were ranked," said Rowell at the start of preseason last week, no longer haunted by the statistic. "Baylor was last. Kansas was second to last and we were third to last. Let's be honest, you put the film on, and everybody knew: 'We don't have to run the ball. Let's throw it.' I went online and looked at it myself -- 118th, eighth the Big 12. If I keep that in my head, I guarantee that won't happen again."
A more obvious motivation may never again exist for West Virginia's defense.
• Game: West Virginia vs. William & Mary, Mountaineer Field.
• When: Noon, Sept. 1.
• TV: FSN 1.
With an offense expected to rebuild with a fair amount of ease despite major turnover, it is the potential of the defense that will likely determine how the second year in the Big 12 goes.
Keith Patterson was promoted to defensive coordinator before the Pinstripe Bowl and has been methodically rebranding the 3-4 in subtle ways that players speak very highly of.
"I love coach Patterson's scheme. It's so simple. And it's attack. Everything is Attack! Attack! Attack!," Rowell said. "I think that'll bring more sacks and more production to the defense. We won't be ranked 118th and eighth in the Big 12 this year, I tell you that much."
Will Clarke, a defensive end moved to tackle this year, said Patterson's scheme includes more aggressive blitzing, subtly different coverages and more pressure from the front seven, designed to take away those massive passing gains.
He also said Patterson reminds him of former coordinator Jeff Casteel in certain ways.
"[Patterson] is your typical linebacker coach. Tough, hard-nosed," Clarke said. "He's hard working, aggressive, puts you in the position to make plays. He's very similar to coach Casteel. He's his own person, but a great coach, tough guy."
The cornerbacks may have had the toughest time dealing with the defense's past struggles than any other group on the team.
Senior Brodrick Jenkins, said they have to remember, if only to learn.
"I mean if it doesn't motivate you, then I don't think you're in the right mode of thinking," he said. "If you're complacent with that then you're not trying to get better. That is a good way of putting it, this is where we need to be. You don't want to stay the same, go down, you want to get better.
"There's a chip on our shoulder. Nobody wants to have a season like last year. Being a corner, I learn from it. Even Deion Sanders got beat. Darrelle Revis got beat. It's life. Success isn't a straight line, it's a zig-zag."
Coach Dana Holgorsen, loathe to bring up the past, said on opening day of preseason he has already seen strong signs from the defense, including more depth, and good energy.
"Do we have to talk about last year? I'd rather talk about 2013," he 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."
For the players, it helps to move forward.
"The way we're being taught now is a whole different way and a better way for us to be comfortable," Jenkins said. "Last year, we were over-thinking things too much. The new scheme really helps us go out and be the player that we can be."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.