Best way to build your defense? Turnovers
MORGANTOWN - From a defensive perspective, the most encouraging thing about West Virginia's Gold-Blue scrimmage Saturday night was not that the defense actually outscored an offense expected to be among the most highly-charged in the country this fall.
It was how that defense managed to do it.
It wasn't through stop after stop, although that was pretty amazing, too. The offense scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and then on its last two. In the middle, there were 11 other offensive possessions that produced but two Tyler Bitancurt field goals.
But even at that, the offense would have won the game by a point in the rather thrown-together scoring system - three points to the defense for a stop, five if it was a three-and-out - had it not been for that most-encouraging aspect for the defense.
Let's face it. In the Big 12, that's what the game is all about on the defensive side of things.
Stopping Big 12 teams that had six of the top 13 total offenses in the country (seven of the top 15 if you count West Virginia)? That's just not going to happen very often. If you count WVU and TCU, the league had six of the top 13 scoring offenses in the country last year, too.
Ah, but turnovers is the way around that.
The teams West Virginia faces in the fall are going to march up and down the field. They're going to score points, too.
Big 12 teams held down three of the bottom seven positions in total defense last season. Six were in the bottom half of the total defense statistics. Shoot, the best defense in the league last year was Texas, ranked No. 11, and see what that got the Longhorns? They were 8-5.
But to find the key, one needs look no further than the team from which West Virginia's new defensive co-coordinator, Joe DeForest, came. Oklahoma State ranked No. 107 in the country in total defense. But the Cowboys were 46 spots better than that in scoring defense.
OK, so being No. 61 in scoring defense is nothing the write home about.
In fact, that tied OSU with West Virginia and we spent all last fall complaining about WVU's defense. But in the Big 12 that was enough to get the Cowboys to 12-1 and a meltdown against Iowa State away from the national championship game.
And it was because OSU ranked first in the country in both turnovers gained and turnover margin. It was enough to give the Cowboys enough extra possessions each game to outscore teams.
"If you go back to where I came from, we led the country in turnovers [gained],'' DeForest said.
"We may not have had the best defense statistically, but when you lead the country in turnovers, you're going to give your offense three extra possessions a game. And if they capitalize on two of them, you gain 10 to 14 points.''
Pretty simple, huh?
Don't fret too much if opposing offenses score time and again because your offense is probably going to do the same. If you can just give your offense a few extra chances to do that scoring, well, do the math.
Of course, it's the same way in every league and at every level.
"It doesn't matter what league you play in,'' DeForest said. "If you get turnovers, you're going to have a lot better opportunity to win the football game.''
But in the Big 12, it seems especially important given that everyone moves the football and scores points. Three extra possessions in the Big East might give you only three more opportunities to punt the football in a 17-14 game. Three extra chances with the ball in the Big 12 might give you just what you need to win 51-48.
All of which is why, during West Virginia's spring drills, the defense charted those turnovers with a goal in mind. The stated objective was to create three turnovers per day over the course of 15 practices, which would have been 45. The defense finished with 40, but DeForest was quick to point out that was a win.
"We didn't count the three non-padded days,'' he said. "On non-padded days, you can't really go for the ball and strip it.''
And that's what West Virginia's defense is all about now - going for the ball and stripping it. You can't do that at the total expense of tackling and being in position, but if the attitude is there, then you have a chance.
"We drill it, we harp on it, we do everything we possibly can to show them the benefits of it,'' DeForest said. "And I think in their minds and in our minds we become more aggressive as a defense.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1