The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 22, 2013

Will anything be different this fall for WVU defense?

The numbers from last year’s West Virginia University football defense are almost painful to relive. Taking a look back at the stats from 2012 is sort of like watching one of those nature documentaries of a lion attacking a zebra. No matter how many times you look at it, it just doesn’t get any prettier.

If you need a refresher — or if you’re one of those sick people who like to study that zebra carcass — WVU finished its first season in the Big 12 ranked 108th out of 120 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense, allowing 472.46 yards per game. It was 114th in scoring defense, allowing 38.08 points per contest.

I could go on and give you the rushing defense and passing defense numbers, but if you enjoy the blood and the guts that much, it’s time to put the paper down and tune into Animal Planet. Let’s just say it was enough to force head coach Dana Holgorsen to take the defensive coordinator duties from his old buddy, Joe DeForest, and hand them over to veteran Keith Patterson before the team even got to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.

But as the 2013 season quickly approaches — we’re now just a little over a month from the start of another college football season — fans are wondering if anything, besides the man giving the defensive signals, will be different this fall.

The law of averages say it will. I mean, it took 120 years of Mountaineer football to produce a defense as bad as the one WVU fans witnessed last fall, so it’s unlikely that it would take just a few months to find one that’s even worse.

But I wanted to hear it from the horse’s — or maybe the zebra’s — mouth, so when I caught up with some of the WVU players Friday in Summersville, I asked the question they’ve heard 1,000 times. “Is the defense going to be better this year?”

“You’re going to see,” said safety Darwin Cook. “I don’t want to say nothing. I just want everybody to think we’re going to suck.”

OK. You’ve got it. But is that really what you want fans to believe?

“Just imagine if somebody told you for a year you were a sorry reporter,” Cook said to me as I stood there recording his comments with my iPhone, thinking back to some of the angry e-mails and phone calls I’ve received over the years telling me just that. “Now it’s your time to come out and show everybody what you’ve got.

“That’s how I feel,” Cook continued, assuring me that he wasn’t criticizing my writing ability. “If anybody has an occupation and has a setback, they can be motivated to come back and be better than they were.”

Sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce’s comments weren’t quite as colorful — few can live up to the precedent set by Cook, the man who tackled Obie the Orange in the end zone at the Orange Bowl — but his message was much the same.

“That’s all behind us,” he said of the disaster of 2012. “We’re looking forward, and we definitely want to do a lot better.

“I think we’re going to bring more excitement to the game. We’re going to have a lot more fun with it and limit scoring. When you do that, everybody has fun.”

Bruce, who had a big personal season in 2012 — a freshman All-American according to some publications — hasn’t experienced anything other than being the butt of jokes all around college football, but Cook, who scored on a 99-yard fumble return in the 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl, has won a BCS game and seen the other end of the spectrum.

That, he said, helps keep him focused on getting back to the top.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said the Cleveland, Ohio, native. “I wish (2012) didn’t happen, but I just have to learn from it. I know what it’s like to be at the top, and I know what it’s like to be at the bottom. I work harder than ever before, and I’m going to take it to the field and hope for the best.

“You just have to put everything in perspective,” continued the 5-foot-11 senior. “You can’t really listen to everything you hear. You never know what’s going to happen. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman as a freshman. You just have to stay focused and have a positive attitude.”

Cook said he’s set personal goals, but he isn’t giving them away. The only hint he’d give is that he expects Morgantown to have a new nickname by the end of the year.

“Ooh City,” he said.

Ooh City?

“There are going to be a lot of oohs in the crowd this year. It’s not Touchdown City anymore. It’s Ooh City.”

Mountaineer fans will take any sound other than the opponents’ fans celebrating another touchdown.

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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