West Virginia’s defense has largely picked up right where it left off in 2020, putting out three strong performances to start the season — but the Mountaineer coaching staff still wants more out of that side of the ball.
Through three games, WVU has allowed just 17 points per game (tied for 31st nationally) while holding teams to 305.7 yards per game. The defense’s value can’t entirely be described on the stats sheet, though — without their last-minute goal line stand against Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers might be 1-2 at this point, and this story would be much different.
But while the numbers are looking up for the Mountaineers, there is still a major hole in the unit’s stats — turnovers. Heading into Big 12 play, WVU is minus-7 in the turnover margin, which is by far the lowest mark in the Big 12 (Iowa State is the second-lowest at just -2).
Of course, it takes two sides of the ball to tango in that statistic, and the offense’s eight turnovers is no help — but at the same time, the defense has forced just one turnover all season, the lowest number in the Big 12.
“[Forcing turnovers] was one of our strengths last year,” said WVU coach Neal Brown. “Part of that is we’ve got to do a better job of recovering fumbles. There’s an art to that.”
So far this season, West Virginia has forced five fumbles, but has only made one recovery against LIU.
“We’re falling right on top of the ball, I mean, the ball is oblong, you’ve got to go at it from the side, and you’ve got to use your hands,” Brown said.
At the same time, West Virginia and Kansas are still the only Big 12 teams without an interception this season. This unit has had especially strong output from individuals, including safety Alonzo Addae, who earned national recognition for his play against the Hokies on Saturday.
Still, the invaluable duty to pick opposing quarterbacks off has lacked, and the Mountaineer offense will likely need those opportunities once conference play picks up.
“I think we need to do a better job of getting our eyes back on some downfield throws in the secondary, that will help,” “That’s going to be something, we had a long meeting on it, we talked about it in our team meeting, we talked about it in our staff meeting [Tuesday] mroning, and we’re going to do some things in practice.”
What exactly can be done in practice to force turnovers on Saturdays? Forcing fumbles and snagging interceptions are difficult plays to choreograph and prepare for, and you can only run the tip drill so many times. That’s why defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley says he and his staff just need to keep it fresh.
“You have to work on it, you have to find different ways that don’t get redundant and boring to work on it, which sometimes is hard because there are only so many drills that you can do,” he said. “But we have to do a better job. We have to do a better job of getting our hands up at the line of scrimmage and affecting throws, we have to do a better job of getting our hands on the football in the run game, we have to do a better job of trying to get the ball out in gang tackling situations. It’s really just something that they have not done a good job of, and that’s as simple as it is.”