West Virginia: Defense improves in loss to TCU

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The football staff at West Virginia searched for weeks looking for ways to improve the defense: promoting freshmen, spending time on fundamentals, scouring tape.

On Saturday one logistical change to the staff seemed to make a significant difference.

Co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson switched positions, with DeForest moving to the coaches' perch in the pressbox from the sideline and Patterson moving to the field from the box.

DeForest retained play-calling duties.

"I loved it. Loved it," said DeForest after the game. "I thought I was calm. It's so surreal up there. In 23 years of coaching I've never been in the box and I don't think I'll ever leave.

"I could see what was going on in the secondary which was the most important thing. I could see the big picture. I was calm making calls and I think that had a lot to do with how we played tonight."

The Mountaineers still lost, 39-38 on a 2-point conversion in overtime.

But the Mountaineers put together one of their better defensive games of the season with the exception of one big play late in regulation that cost them the game.

The defense forced TCU to punt nine times, forced and recovered two fumbles, stopped a drive with a goal-line interception and forced six TCU three-and-outs.

They were also able to far better pressure the quarterback, sacking Trevone Boykin three times.

"I thought they played good. They responded to all the criticism and scrutiny that they've been under," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "They practiced hard for two weeks and got better."

The change in sideline/pressbox positions was made at Holgorsen's suggestion and DeForest said he was on board.

A former special teams coach at Oklahoma State, he was hired last winter to be defensive coordinator for the first time in his career.

"We just had to make a change," said DeForest. "It was Dana's idea and I thought it was a great idea. I didn't balk at it at all. ...When you're on the field there's so much noise and so much going on. It's just a lot easier to call plays from the box.

"For me it's a lot easier because you can see everything and you can make corrections from the box you normally couldn't when you're on the field because you don't see the far-side perimeter."

Patterson, who also works with the linebackers, was jumping for joy with defensive line coach Erik Slaughter on the sideline following a three-and-out.

"I've coached for 25 years. I've been down, I've been up," Patterson said after the game. "It's one of those deals where I think it helped us today. But what helped us more than anything is that the kids played with great effort, great intensity and passion."

Among the other changes: redshirt sophomore Ishmael Banks made his first career start at cornerback and redshirt senior Cecil Level made his first career start at safety in place of Darwin Cook.

Make no mistake, there were still poor plays.

West Virginia led by a touchdown with 3:19 to play after a 76-yard punt return by Tavon Austin, but traded punts before the defense gave up a 94-yard touchdown when receiver Josh Boyce got open and outraced two defensive backs to the end zone.

TCU passed for 279 yards, a number that would have been well under 200 minus the 94-yard play and a 25-yard touchdown in the second overtime on a trick play.

"We gave up some plays we shouldn't have," said DeForest. "But big picture, we got better. If you get better every day then things are going to build."


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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