It's always something different, too, it seems. At various points this season, the defensive line has had to be shuffled or the cornerbacks or the safeties. Always the linebacking corps has been a mess, where the only player who has started every game is Brandon Golson. He's a junior college transfer who has been on campus only since June.
Patterson was elevated to the defensive coordinator position late last season. He began changing things for last year's bowl game, then continued in the spring and in fall camp. That's actually pretty good lead time given that most new coordinators don't start until the spring.
But given all those injuries and the rapidly changing cast with which he works each week, it's been difficult to develop any kind of defensive continuity. Worst of all, he's seen so many of the supposed leaders of his defense go down one by one.
"You can sit there and talk about different schemes. Shoot, you could have stayed with the 3-3-5 for the last three years,'' Patterson said. "But when you have change in leadership at those key positions, it's going to be different. It's different in how you prepare, how you practice, how coaches teach. Things are just going to be different.''
A year ago, West Virginia's defense seldom even slowed teams down until the schedule softened with Iowa State and Kansas at the end of the season. The other seven Big 12 opponents averaged 51 points against WVU over seven straight games.
This year, only Baylor flat embarrassed the defense that way, as the Bears did to a lot of other teams. Almost every week, it seems, the defense kept West Virginia in games while waiting for the offense to do something. If the offense didn't - Oklahoma State and TCU were the exceptions - the defense eventually cracked, usually because of a failure to hold on key third-down plays.
"Could we be a little bit less aggressive [on third downs]? I don't know,'' Patterson said. "But it had gotten us to that point.''
Texas could have blown West Virginia out almost before the game began because of offensive turnovers, but the defense bailed it out. The defense held Oklahoma to one touchdown (set up by a muffed punt) and could have been playing with a lead had the offense not fumbled inside the OU 20 while driving for a go-ahead score.
Oklahoma State has lost one game this season, at West Virginia, when the Mountaineers held the Cowboys 20 points below their scoring average.
"I believe in what we do,'' Patterson said. "Otherwise, how can you sit there for 12 series and basically put your foot on Texas' throat, and then boom, boom, boom and you're sitting there saying, 'What just happened?' ''
After Saturday, Patterson can hit the reset button. He can spend an offseason getting guys healthy and recruiting more who are actually better fits for the system. And he can ignore statistics that don't tell the whole story.
"You can't sit there and look at the yards. You have to look at the whole body of evidence,'' Patterson said. "Look at what we did against Oklahoma State, against Texas for most of the game, against Texas Tech. We were so close to being a good defense. That's probably the most disappointing thing.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.