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Viola: WVU Defense Developing Physical, Mental Toughness

October 3, 2013
By TONY VIOLA , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - Keith Patterson said it was the best part of the game for him.

To take it one step further, it might have been the best part of the season for the West Virginia defense thus far.

Patterson, of course, was referring to his defense's goal-line stand against Oklahoma State, the one where the Cowboys had a first-and-goal from the 3, but came off the field four downs later with nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.

''On that goal-line stand, we just held them on third-and-6, there's a facemask call and they move the ball half the distance,'' the West Virginia defensive coordinator recalled. ''Then we hold them again. We held them twice inside the 10, which was the best part of the game for me.

''I've said this all along - I don't spend any time looking in the rear-view mirror. I can tell you what they have, though. They have character and discipline. They have a physical toughness and mental toughness to them.''

It all goes back to January when head coach Dana Holgorsen and the rest of the coaching staff came up with 'T.E.A.M.'

Every Mountaineers player walks around with a blue wristband with the acronym in gold letters. The 'T' stands for toughness.

''When you think about West Virginia and the people that have played before, and the teams that have come, the one thing that you can say is that they were tough,'' Patterson said. ''Our kids today show not only physical toughness, but mental toughness. I think it showed up in the second half of the Maryland game. Someone told me that even though we were down 30 points, we were playing like it was the second half of the Super Bowl. That toughness is something we've harped on since January. We are going to play with a physical and mental toughness.''

As for that goal-line stand, Patterson believes it could be the first of many crucial moments for the Mountaineers this season.

''I think at the end of the year, we will look back and see the significance of it,'' he said. ''It shows a lot about the character of our young men and the pride and the passion they played with. The effort was possibly the best it has been all year long, and I've been impressed with the effort that they have been giving all year long.''

The Return Game

While the defense was making plays against the Cowboys, West Virginia's return game, frankly, was not.

The Mountaineers finished with three punt returns for negative-5 yards.

''I was more frustrated than you about our returns, I can assure you that,'' Holgorsen said. ''Their punter sprayed it everywhere. I don't know what their net punt was, but it wasn't nearly as good as what our net punt was. We will check that off as a win.''

No doubt WVU punter Nick O'Toole has been money for the Mountaineers all season long, but the return game is still under construction.

''It has been a learning experience,'' said sophomore Jordan Thompson, who finished the Oklahoma State game with two punt returns for minus-4 yards. ''I never really had a main role as a punt returner, but it is just a process. I am getting more comfortable being back there to catch punts. Now, it is about getting more reps so I can become more comfortable during returns.''

A True Tight End

Cody Clay might be listed as a receiver on WVU's depth chart, but during the game against Oklahoma State, he was a true tight end.

The West Virginia native finished the game with three catches for 27 yards. Two of those catches were on third down that went for first-down yardage.

''I was definitely happy to get involved in the offense in that way,'' the redshirt sophomore from George Washington said. ''It was fun for me, and I felt like I was in high school a little bit again. I was getting open, and they were throwing the ball to me, which is something we have not done for a little bit.''

In the Mountaineers first four games, Clay had three receptions for 20 yards.

''We had not run that play in the previous games,'' he said. ''I kind of just went to get open. In the past, I was doing some routes just across the field. Now, I am literally just going and finding an open void, and sitting down. It is pretty easy. All I am doing is going 5 yards and turning around.''

Tony Viola can be reached via email at

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