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THE 3-3-5 DEFENSE AT WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY ENDURED (and often thrived) through 10 years, three head coaches, 95 wins, 33 losses and 10 bowl games, but it will not survive the school's move to the Big 12.
With the departure after last season of defensive coordinator and 3-3-5 guru Jeff Casteel to reunite with former WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, current Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen knew the defense's days were numbered. The hiring of defensive coordinator Joe DeForest fresh off 11 years with new Big 12 rival Oklahoma State confirmed it. As Holgorsen (who coached at Texas Tech for eight seasons and at OSU for one) and DeForest know, West Virginia will face much more high-powered offenses in the Big 12 than it did in the Big East. The coaches decided that a 3--4 scheme would give the Mountaineers the best chance to compete.
"There are more snaps [per game in the Big 12], so you're going to play more people," says Holgorsen. "West Virginia hasn't really played freshmen, but we're going to need to. ... We're going to need more bodies. ... We've made adjustments to make [the defense] make sense to the kids quicker. DeForest was good at that at Oklahoma State. He didn't complicate it."
Indeed, DeForest has distilled his goals for the season to a crucial component: "[We want] three turnovers a game, 36 turnovers [total]." For a team that picked up 23 last year, there is a lot to work on.
So far, so good, as the defense won the spring game (receiving points from stops and turnovers). Junior tackle Will Clarke credits intensity during practice to the unit's success so far. "Once the guys got acclimated, almost three fourths of the way through spring ball, we started to jell," he says. "Practice just started to get more intense from a defensive standpoint. Offensive guys were congratulating us, and we were really praising each other." He is also excited about his new coach's history with the Big 12. "It's a big advantage," adds Clarke. "He knows exactly how to prepare. We really trust him."
DeForest is more reserved about his chances against Big 12 offenses. "I know 'em," he says, laughing. "Doesn't mean I can stop 'em."
COACH Dana Holgorsen (2nd year) 10--3 (5-2 in Big East)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Shannon Dawson