Clarke, Rowell hope to bring leadership to Mountaineer defense in 2013
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 06:03
The 2011-2012 season wasn’t exactly the year of the defense in Morgantown.
In fact, the 2012 West Virginia football team allowed more points than any other team in the storied history of the Mountaineers.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen attributed the record in points allowed to West Virginia moving to one the most offensively dynamic football conferences in the entire country, but there’s simply no denying that a lack of defensive consistency also played a role.
Now, one of the top priorities for the Mountaineers heading into their second season in the Big 12 is to turn things around defensively. And according to newly appointed defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, there’s already a lot to be excited about for West Virginia’s defensive line, which is returning almost completely intact from last season.
"We’ve got a plan, and we’re going to stick to the plan and try to get it to where we can execute it," Patterson said. "It’s going to take time, but I really like our players’ frames of mind. There seems to be a hunger. We’re going to get kids to play with that chip on their shoulder again. We know the expectations don’t seem to be where they were a year ago, and our kids are going to go out and try to prove people wrong."
It’s been well-documented West Virginia will indeed have to replace some personnel at key positions on the offensive side of the ball next season with the departures of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Fortunately the Mountaineers have some experience returning on the D-line that could provide vital leadership to a defense that, frankly, lacked any at all last season.
Senior linemen Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell, like the rest of the defense, struggled at times last season, but Holgorsen said he’s excited about both the off-seasons Clarke and Rowell have had and the potential they’ll bring into the upcoming season.
"Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell are two seniors that we’re going to lean on from a leadership standpoint to do a lot of things for us," Holgorsen said. "They’re having great offseasons, they’re working hard and their attitudes are great."
Patterson echoed Holgorsen’s sentiments regarding the two senior defensive linemen who combined for 68 tackles, 8.5 TFLs but just 1.5 sacks in 2012.
"They’ve really matured and developed into some great leadership, which is what we need," Patterson said. "And if you ever want leaders on defense, that’s where I want them – up front. The game is still going to be won and lost in the trenches on both sides of the ball, so when your two best leaders, and two of your better players are up front, that gives you tremendous confidence; that gives confidence to the entire defense."
So, according to both the head coach and defensive coordinator, Clarke and Rowell will be looked at to lead West Virginia in the trenches, but Rowell himself said, apart from their leadership roles, the two players are very different.
"Will and I are just day-and-night different people," Rowell said. "Will is more of a quiet-type dude. He leads us in playing, and I talk and play at the same time. I’m in practice having fun and talking to Coach Holgorsen.
"I just feel like when I get to talking, I get the whole defense going, like I did today. I just feel like I go out at practice and do what is necessary, and if the guys are having a bad day, I’ll just say some encouraging words, and we are ready to play."
Rowell said even though last year was frustrating from a defensive standpoint, the coaches and the players are using that frustration and lack of success to ultimately come into the upcoming season as motivated as possible.
"Our defense as a total was No. 8 in the Big 12. I thought we were No. 10 with the way we played. It was discouraging to see how we played last year. Last summer before camp, Coach Slaughter was telling us how the media was saying that the D-line was going to be the worst and it is going to be our fault that we lose every game," Rowell said. "We took it personally, to be honest. Coach Slaughter said it to us every day, ‘You guys are the worst
and you want to be first.’ That’s what they’re preaching now.
"So, this year we’re just working hard and training hard for spring ball, and (we) are just looking forward to better things this year."