“You can’t play defense with ten guys. You’ve got to be able to play defense with eleven guys and make sure you’re executing your assignment when things are rough. That’s what mental toughness is all about.”
Cook (25) celebrated his interception, but found himself out of position at other times during the game.
That’s how head coach Dana Holgorsen ended his answer to a question about the West Virginia defense earlier this week.
It sounds simplistic, but it’s true. Multiple times in the Mountaineers’ season opening victory, the majority of the defense held up their end of the bargain, but one or two players found themselves out of position, and it cost West Virginia dearly.
“We had at least a half dozen missed assignments there that kept them on the field in third down situations, and eventually that (will result in) points,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “In the entire first half, we would have ten people executing the defense and one guy break down, and you saw the results – big plays.”
The three big plays Patterson is referring to were all catches by wide receiver Tre McBride – two 40-yard bombs and a 29-yarder. Two resulted in touchdowns, while the other gave The Tribe a field goal attempt, which they missed. The only other time William & Mary got into scoring position was after a Paul Millard fumble in West Virginia territory.
In the second half, the Mountaineers shutout their FCS opponent, allowing them to come back and avoid an upset loss that many other teams across the country suffered. Aside from no more jitters, Patterson attributes that to his teams’ ability to listen.
“We came out in the second half and we eliminated those mistakes,” he said. “That’s what I told the kids. There’s no magic call, it’s just a matter of going out and doing what you’re coached to do. If you do that, then everything will be fine.”
Throughout this week, the players have been echoing the calls from their coach.
“On defense, everyone has to stay on the same page,” said linebacker Isaiah Bruce. “If one person is doing his own thing or doesn’t get the call, the other team goes the other way for a touchdown. Everyone is responsible for so much, no one should be thinking about someone else’s job. Everyone just has to do their part and not think about it too much.”
For defensive lineman Shaq Rowell, he was ready to take it a step further.
"If we can all do our job and listen to the assignments that Coach Patterson gives us, I guarantee we'll beat them," he said. "It's that simple. If we can do our job, we can win."
EerSports' Alissa Hudak contributed to this article.