Coordinator's departure another obstacle

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will be under immense pressure to win next season. And now, he'll have to win without his defensive coordinator.

Thursday, the school confirmed that Keith Patterson had "voluntarily left the program," and Friday, Arizona State announced it had hired Patterson.

Patterson served as Sun Devils coach Todd Graham's defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh before taking the job at West Virginia.

“I want to thank Keith for his two years that he spent coaching in our program,” Holgorsen said in a statement. “He was a valuable member of our staff, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Holgorsen is right. Patterson indeed was a valuable member of the West Virginia staff.

Patterson arrived in Morgantown in 2012 as the co-defensive coordinator under Joe DeForest. After a disastrous season in which the Mountaineers ranked 114th nationally in points allowed, Holgorsen demoted DeForest and made Patterson the lone coordinator.

Patterson didn't exactly turn West Virginia into the '85 Chicago Bears. But the Mountaineers showed improvement, especially early in the season, despite being put in tough situations by a mediocre offense that didn't come alive until the final month of the season. Unfortunately, mild improvement wasn't enough to push West Virginia into a bowl game, as the Mountaineers finished out the season losing six of seven games.

West Virginia already was going to have to replace its two best defensive players in safety Darwin Cook and defensive end Will Clarke. With Patterson gone now, too, Holgorsen faces a monumental task of turning the Mountaineers around in 2014 despite facing major questions at quarterback, a brutal schedule, and, now, a lack of continuity on the defensive staff. West Virginia will have a fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years, unless Holgorsen promotes DeForest back to coordinator, which, after the 2012 debacle, is unlikely.

The degree of difficulty was already going to be significant for West Virginia. The Mountaineers open next season with Alabama. They also have to go to Maryland, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The projected top two teams in the league, Oklahoma and Baylor, go to Morgantown, where the Mountaineers will also likely be underdogs. Yet at the very least, West Virginia will have to win one of those seven games just to get bowl eligible.

Meanwhile, quarterback Clint Trickett is still trying to heal from the battering he took last season. Paul Millard is playing baseball. Ford Childress has reportedly left school for good. And junior-college transfer Skyler Howard, while promising, is unproven.

Even with All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims out of eligibility, the Mountaineers still have skill talent. West Virginia also recruited well there this year, even landing ESPN 300 running back Donte Thomas-Williams over Florida on signing day. Yet unless the Mountaineers get better and more consistent quarterback play, all that skill will amount to little in the win-loss column.

Even with the quarterback and schedule issues, West Virginia's defensive trajectory under Patterson was one reason why West Virginia fans were hopeful the Mountaineers could overcome these obstacles next season.

Now, in his make-or-break season, Holgorsen will have to overcome losing Patterson, too.