Keith Patterson comes to Pitt after coaching the last eight seasons at Tulsa. He most recently served in the same role he will start off with at Pitt; coaching the linebackers and serving as a co-defensive coordinator. In eight seasons at Tulsa, Patterson had 10 players under his watch that earned all-conference honors.
"Coach Patterson and I were college roommates," head coach Todd Graham said. "We coached high school football together and have coached at Tulsa."
Though Pitt is expected to change its scheme, Patterson says it will be simply taking the current crop of personnel, taking advantage of their strengths and putting them in the best position possible to make plays. From what he saw in Pitt's win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl, he feels he is going to have a lot of options to work with.
"There's no doubt," Patterson said. "It's a great foundation. The opportunity, it's not like you're coming in having to rebuild, or start from ground zero. We're going to come in and refine some things. It's bringing in a different approach and style, and attitude. The kids seem to be very open."
The biggest difference for him--which might even be easier for him--is that he is used to facing high-octane offenses every week in Conference USA. Defensively, this past season, no Big East team allowed more than 400 yards per game on defense. Rutgers ranked last in yards allowed per game, with 374.2. That total would have ranked fourth out of the 12 teams in Conference USA. Tulsa yielded 442.6 yards a game, which ranked ninth. Central Florida ranked first in defense, allowing 318.1 yards a game. That total would have ranked fifth among Big East teams this past years.
The biggest reason for the difference in yardage totals is simply the culture of the conference; the number of high-octane offenses that a Conference USA defense must face each week. Graham has already talked about bringing a high-octane offense, that he promises will keep fans out of their seats this year. There's no question he's capable of doing that, because having an offense as such is a way of life in Conference USA.
"You've got Houston, who is spread, you've got June Jones (at SMU)," Patterson said, rattling off the diverse offensive styles he's accustomed to seeing every week. "Then you have George O'Leary (at Central Florida), where you have multiple tight ends, power running game and playaction passing. You had to be very versatile; built to stop the run to win to win the conference championship. You have to be versatile enough to stop the spread offense. To do that, you have to be multiple on defense."
A look at the respective offensive numbers in the conference prove the culture of the Big East and Conference USA offenses to be different. Half the teams in Conference USA averaged at least four touchdowns a game, including Tulsa who led the conference with 39.7 points a game. The Big East had no teams that averaged four touchdowns a game in scoring offense. Cincinnati came close, averaging 27.1 points a game.
Looking back to this past season, teams like UConn, Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers have been more conventional. South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati have been more spread-oriented offenses. South Florida runs a little of both. Only Syracuse, West Virginia and Rutgers have had their respective head coach in place for three or more seasons. With recent coaching changes come new offensive and defensive styles. The Big East is heading towards more diverse offensive styles. Though Patterson feels a bit relieved to not have to face the high-octane offenses of Conference USA every week, he does feel that the Big East is heading towards the culture of a Conference USA.
"The Big East is a little different," Patterson said. "It's bee been pretty much--predominantly--spread offenses where we come from except for Central Florida and East Carolina have been more traditional. We'll take a look at the conference. Of course, West Virginia is going to be changing a little bit (offensively). We will be very versatile on defense."
To do that, Patterson has taken a good look at the current Pitt roster. Though Tulsa has used the 3-3-5 defense in recent years, he says Pitt will not make that transition. Pitt might employ a 3-3-5 on certain passing downs, but it will resemble more of a dime package. Patterson says Pitt will base itself out of a more familiar formation. That's due in fact to the team's current personnel.
"We'll do some things, to plug some guys, make sure we get them in the right position, utilize their abilities," Patterson said. "What we have to do, first of all, we'll evaluate our own personnel, tweak the defense to fit that first and foremost. Then what we'll do, is we'll evaluate each opponent and their offensive styles. We'll base out of a 3-4. At times, we will be in a 4-3."
The only real difference will be taking the rush defensive end, and making him a standup pass rusher from a linebacker position. Pittsburgh Steeler fans have seen similar transitions over the years. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans were defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme at Colorado State. Both were converted to linebackers in the NFL immediately. Though Patterson didn't specify--because he hasn't evaluated Pitt's personnel too much in depth yet--based on production and his natural abilities, Brandon Lindsey figures to be a good candidate at that standup end.
"You really don't get a chance to evaluate," Patterson said. "We'll sit on down here in between recruiting and the early part of February, and really do a good job of evaluating each one of their individual talents, then tweaking what we do.
"We will be very multiple. In passing situations, you will see us in a three-man front. We are very, very multiple defensively. We'll get guys on the field. We want speed. We want guys that can impact the quarterback."
Impacting the quarterback is a major theme of Patterson's defensive philosophy. Though Tulsa didn't rank near the top of the conference in yards allowed, they were pretty dynamic in forcing turnovers. Tulsa was a plus-17 in turnover margin, including 24 interceptions. They ranked second in the country in turnover margin. This of course against several opportunistic, spread offenses that put up big chunks of yardage each game. Pitt, by comparison, was even in turnover margin for the season.
Bringing in his scheme, and his philosophy on putting emphasis on the quarterback position and getting turnovers, Patterson looks forward to the depth he is going to have to work with. Pitt fans want a team that can get over the hump and win that big game. Look no further than Tulsa's win at Notre Dame, three weeks after Pitt lost a close 23-17 game in South Bend. The win was considered the biggest in Tulsa history.
"Three of our biggest games, Notre Dame and the bowl game, we forced four (turnovers) against Notre Dame and six in the bowl game, one on special teams for seven," Patterson said. "That's our whole philosophy, to impact that quarterback. The game has changed. It's a lot more than scoring defense."