Well, West Virginia wasn't actually playing 10 true freshmen on defense a year ago, either. It was "just'' seven. Four others were redshirt freshmen. Still, that's 11 defensive players who had never before played in a college game.
It's more than just experience, though. Keith Patterson took over as the defensive coordinator at the end of the regular season in 2012 and so now has been on the job 10 months, through bowl game prep, spring practice, fall camp and five games of the season. The difference he's made is noticeable.
"Coach Patterson's done a great job of corralling these guys and teaching them the game,'' Holgorsen said.
"Last year we had a version of his 3-4 defense and then when he took over before the bowl game he started installing his and his only version of the 3-4 defense,'' Holgorsen said. "Having one voice is obviously the right thing, especially his voice.
"He's doing a fantastic job of teaching them the game the way he knows how to teach it. And then you couple that with [having] experienced guys.''
Indeed, the experience has shown. Safeties Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph have provided a tremendous boost all around, while corners Ishmael Banks, Travis Bell and true freshman Daryl Worley have amped up the pass coverage. The linebackers have been hit with injuries, but there was enough depth there to begin with. And the defensive line has been kept fresh by rotating at least six players in the three front spots.
"We're getting great senior leadership with Darwin Cook and Shaq Rowell and Will Clarke. And then we've got guys that are coming on,'' Holgorsen said. "Our corners aren't true freshmen like they were last year. Travis Bell's an experienced guy that's really emerged at corner. Icky Banks is an experienced guy that's really emerged at corner. And then those 10 true freshmen are not true freshmen anymore.''
Then throw in junior college guys with more experience like Dontrill Hyman and Brandon Golson.
"It's a combination of a lot of things,'' Holgorsen said.
There's no question, though, that the competition this year has been different. West Virginia hasn't faced a series of experienced quarterbacks running explosive offenses like last season, and there aren't many down the road, either. Even the best offenses WVU will still face generally have new quarterbacks or unsettled situations at the position.
Baylor has a new quarterback, too, in Bryce Petty, but it hasn't seemed to matter yet.
"Last year there were so many experienced offenses that we faced, this Baylor team being one of them,'' Holgorsen said. "You've got to be willing to step up and play at the highest level possible each and every week. And that's one thing that our defense has bought into and they're doing a good job of that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.