MORGANTOWN — Right off the bat Thursday, Dana Holgorsen used what will be his final formal media availability until West Virginia's opening week of the season to gives kudos to his team's defense.
He used words like — among others — happy and satisfying. He fairly raved.
Of course, given that West Virginia's defensive performance in 2012 was anything but happy or satisfying, his comments begged a question.
Is he happy with the defense in relation to most defenses, or is he merely enjoying it in relation to last year's disaster? If it's the latter, there could still be a long way to go.
"Yeah, it could be in relation to where we were last year,'' Holgorsen said. "We're definitely way ahead of where we were last year.''
Last year, though, brought the worst defensive performance in school history. Even an offense that set records almost weekly couldn't make up for a defense that set them on the other end. So even if the defense is improved, it might not be good enough.
And Holgorsen knows that. He admits it. It's just so hard to gauge for so many reasons, not the least of which is that this year's defense isn't facing the same challenges in practice that were afforded last year's group. It might be a case of WVU's offense, with its three main cogs — quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey — in the NFL and only a handful of other veterans returning, isn't challenging this year's defense.
Again, it's just hard to gauge.
"We're about a lot of the same bodies, so we ought to be ahead of where we were last year,'' Holgorsen said. "It's either that or it's in relation to where we are offensively, which is not where we were last year. That's going to be obvious that offensively we're not where we were last year at this point.
"That doesn't mean we can't be better than last year at the end of the season. It's just going to take some time whenever you're breaking in as many new bodies as we're breaking in.''
The defense has gone through a transition since the end of last season that includes changes that may or may not seem major. The coordinator, of course, was changed, with Keith Patterson replacing Joe DeForest, but both were on the staff last season. The alignments are essentially the same, although the philosophies might be different.