MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Heading into West Virginia's 2013 football season, here were the two primary questions:
Well, as the Mountaineers prepare to conclude a disappointing season that will include no bowl game and a losing record for the first time in a dozen years, the answer to the first is a resounding no.
While WVU's offense occasionally showed a few glimpses of brilliance, they were few and far between. For the first time since Holgorsen became an offensive coordinator (2005) or a head coach, his offense won't rank among the top 15 in the country in scoring and total offense. In fact, it heads into Saturday's game with Iowa State No. 85 in scoring and No. 75 in total offense.
The defense? Well, that's a bit more complicated.
It is true that West Virginia's defense will finish this season having allowed fewer total yards and points than a season ago. Of course, that bar was pretty low. The scoring average of opponents has dropped from 38.1 points in 13 games last season to 31.6 through 11 this fall. Opponents who gained an average of 474 yards last season are gaining 444 this.
In truth, the numbers aren't actually much different, and that's after having faced a majority of Big 12 offenses that were in rebuilding mode, many of them with quarterback issues. Teams aren't torching the Mountaineers through the air at nearly the same pace, but are running for more yards. Then again, foes scored 59 touchdowns in the first 11 games last season and just 42 this year, so there's that.
The numbers, though, still don't answer the original question: Have the Mountaineers improved defensively?
Objectively, it's hard not to answer yes. Of course, Patterson is not necessarily objective.
"I don't think there's any way you can watch video tape and say we're not a better defense,'' Patterson said this week. "Are the numbers that much different? No. But without trying to make an excuse - because it is what it is - but if you look at the players we've lost, you have to understand that it's been hard to develop any consistency.''
Indeed, that's the wild card in any assessment of WVU's defense.
Twenty-two players were listed on West Virginia's preseason defensive depth chart, two at each position. Of those 22, more than half (12) have missed games due to injury, five of them season-ending injuries. Of the four players listed at cornerback, none are on the two-deep now. Of the eight players listed at the four linebacker spots, all have missed time and only three will be active on Saturday.
"Look at just our spur-nickel position. Since the Oklahoma game, we haven't gone two weeks in a row and played the same guy there,'' Patterson said. "One game, Georgia State, we didn't even play anyone there. We just did away with the defense because we didn't have anyone. I've never seen anything like that.''