The defense made headlines last year for all the wrong reasons. But a new mindset, a fresh system, and more experienced players have the unit poised for what senior defensive tackle Shaq Rowell
thinks will be a much-improved defense.
It starts with being nasty – a good nasty, of course.
“If you want to be a good defense, you have to have a nasty mindset. You can’t be nice on the field,” Rowell said. “In the locker room, we love each other, but on the field, we have to be nasty or we’ll get the same results as last year.”
And those results were less than desirable. The Mountaineers gave up an average of 38.1 points and surrendered 472.5 yards per game.
Rowell thinks much of it will be corrected with the new system that first-year defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has implemented. Instead of side-to-side movement, Patterson has focused on vertical sets designed to attack the offense in multiple ways.
“We have down linemen, and then we have a buck and a spur,” Rowell explained. “They’re both on the line of scrimmage, so you never know who is coming. We have so many people. That’s why I love Coach Patterson’s defense. But you never know who is coming because we have so many disguises.”
Causing the defensive struggles last year was not only a new system, but also a compliment of young players new to the college game, Rowell said.
“The learning curve is different,” he mentioned. “You have (Coach) Holgorsen’s tempo on top of learning college plays. It’s hard. It was kind of hard to learn anything. We were stepping sideways. We were shading. There was a lot more we had to learn for us as a defense last year. Coach Patterson is making it as simple as possible. It’s dummy proof. It’s so simple. The only thing he wants us to do is dominate. He doesn't want us to have to think.”
Rowell said the defense also learned quite a bit during the inaugural season in the Big 12, much of which helped the unit better prepare in the offseason and understand how it could be more effective. The senior didn’t flinch when asked what the biggest difference was - tempo.
Practicing against West Virginia offense is probably the biggest help, Rowell said. He believes it’s the fastest in the Big 12 other than Baylor.
“If you can line up with the tempo, you’ll be able to win,” Rowell said. “The tempo is designed to not let you line up and catch you with a big mistake. Seventy-five percent or 80 percent of the big plays in the Big 12 are from people not being able to get lined up. If you can adjust to the tempo, you can be a successful team.”