Gold Nuggets: Fearing The Turtle, Enemy Territory, SI On The Ropes & Lou Holtz Goes Nuts

Brett Deering

Join us for some Gold Nuggets as we look at the Vegas odds, chide Maryland fans, study Enemy Territory and wag our finger at SI. Oh, and Lou Holtz loses his ish.

Welcome to another edition of "Gold Nuggets", where I sift and search through the sands of the interwebs to come up with some interesting tidbits for Mountaineer fans. Don't confuse this with the Shotgun Throwdown, I'm way too lazy for that much work. But while WVUIE97 loves you enough to bring in the groceries every day, I'm the cool uncle that sneaks you a drink every now and then.

Let's get guzzlin'.

Fear the Turtle?

As you know, it's Maryland week and with this being the last team on our schedule we've played more than 5 times, I guess it's a rivalry and I guess we need to get fired up. Personally I always felt like the Maryland game was a big one in the early to mid 2000s, and the 2004 game in Morgantown was one of my all-time favorite WVU experience, but about the time Steve Slaton laid a 28 point first quarter on them in 2006, the game felt like it lost its luster.

With WVU enduring a tough year and Maryland seeming to be on the rebound, it feels like it's back. This post on Vegas favoring Maryland by 5.5 jumped out at me when I saw it on Tuesday over at TerrapinStationMD, and the author did a nice job of laying out general projections for college football underdogs:

Vegas has absolutely no confidence in either team. In case you didn’t already know, you can tell a lot about how close a game might be based on the spread Vegas sets, and it’s very much tried and true. If it’s 3 points or less, the favorite tends to lose, statistically speaking, 47% of the time. When its in the 3.5 to 7-point range, the favorites odds of losing plummets to 35%. While those are still very bad odds, they’re most certainly better than being in the dreaded 3 points or less range.

Believe you me, the Terps have this one circled. Their fans have been much more chirpy than in the past and the folks over at Testudo Times even took to invading the Shotgun Throwdown comment thread yesterday - it's definitely worth a giggle. Maybe even drop by and return the favor while they're breathlessly discussing uniform combinations or whatever the hell Maryland fans talk about.

And if you want to see WVU fans fighting back a little, get on Twitter and check out the hashtag #LastTimeMDbeatWVU. Did you know:


I for one am glad to have someone to dish it with and just hope the Mountaineers can continue the streak on Saturday.

Special Superstitious Note to the Football Gods: if you're reading this, I wasn't being arrogant on Twitter and I certainly don't feel great about WVU's chances. I was just defending myself and maybe handing out a little grief. I am a humble football fan. Please be nice to my team.

Enemy Territory

For those that remember, Enemy Territory is a stat compiled by the guys over at cfn.com to track what teams do with possessions that start in the opponent's territory. Here's a quick description:

It's a facet of football that deserves more careful examination and tabulation: What happens each time a team does not start a drive on its own side of the field? Do offenses take advantage of great drive starts? Stay informed throughout the 2013 season on what happens in… Enemy Territory.

We looked at the results from 2012 and the rankings almost mirrored perfectly the top half of the league standings. On the other side of the coin WVU didn't fare well at all with the stat. To give you an idea of the differential, Big 12 champ Kansas State netted 172 points from drives begun in enemy territory (including PATs) while WVU managed just 44.

With the emphasis the WVU defense has put on forcing turnovers under Dana Holgorsen, it only seems logical to track what they DO with the ones they get in prime position (although it's worth noting the stat takes into account drives that result from long kick returns or short punts - anything that gives you the ball in the other team's territory). So how are they doing? Let's take a look.

Thus far, while the quantity of these possessions is low, the hit rate his high. Against William & Mary WVU began a pair of possessions in Tribe territory - the first after flipping the field and taking the ball at the 50 in the 4th quarter and the second on the Tribe's next possession when they threw an interception. The first WVU turned into the winning touchdown and the second almost certainly would have ended the same way except the game ended.

Against Oklahoma WVU had no possessions start in enemy territory - all 4 turnovers they took from the Sooners while OU was on the WVU end of the field. Against Georgia State WVU had one possession begin in GSU territory that resulted from an interception and turned it into 7 points.

All in all WVU is doing well, but frankly needs to find a way to steal some more of these possessions. Turnovers are the most obvious source, but they could also do it with success in the return game, which has been shaky at best.

Before much longer WVU will be facing teams with more talent and experience in Oklahoma State and Baylor. Creating more opportunities in enemy territory would be an easy way to close that gap.

Here's their Week 3 compilation of how every team in the FBS did in enemy territory (if your a Texas fan I'd stay away from that link).

The Devolution of Sports Illustrated

There have been no shortage of blog posts written about the SI "investigation" of the "scandal" at Oklahoma State. As WVU fans we have a vested interest as associate head coach and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest was named several times and alleged to have done some pretty bad things. While I'm not here to bore you with my take, I do want to point you in the direction of what I felt was the best commentary on the entire thing.

From the time I read the first article and then saw the systematic debunking of what had been passed along as fact, I realized the fast and loose way Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann had put their "SPECIAL REPORT" together. I longed for someone with more time and expertise than myself to pull the veil back from SI a bit and confirm with facts what I already strongly suspected through anecdote - SI simply does not put a premium on getting it tight and getting it right the way they used to.

Well that someone came along and his name is John Walters.

Last week Walters, who has an extensive history with the magazine as a fact-checker himself, was able to talk in great detail about the fact-checking process as he understood it during his time at the magazine and paint a picture of a magazine that no longer is doing its homework on stories like this.

First, SI used to employ far more people to fact-check stories than it currently does, which leads me to believe that said stories were much more finely combed through than they are today. The stories were read by lawyers, no matter how fluffy or controversial (the stories; not the lawyers), and if a lawyer had a question, he or she would phone. I imagine the lawyers nit-picked this Oklahoma State piece like vultures on a zebra carcass.

Second, the job was formerly a gateway to greatness, relatively speaking (after all, when all is said and done, we remain nothing more than sports writers; it’s not as if we can fix a sink). As the roster above suggests, highly talented and ambitious twenty-somethings landed those jobs.

I have no idea how carefully SI fact-checked the Oklahoma State piece, nor how many people or how much time was devoted to fact-checking it. I do know that the culture of fact-checking at SI has become much more of a "Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em" approach. Writers are expected to fact-check much more of their material before submitting it. But… the last person who should fact-check a story written by John Walters is….John Walters.

The problem with a piece such as the Oklahoma State series is that all it takes is a few errors, even if they are meaningless ones about a wrong year, to erode that story’s credibility. And that has two negative effects: 1) the public chooses to dismiss the story out of hand and 2) if SI is taken to court for libel, every factual error is one more nail in the coffin.

In a quad of succinct paragraphs, Walters provides context for how fact-checking has evolved at SI and then tells why it is so vitally important to get it right.

Finally he gets to the heart of all this for SI by briefly discussing the Yahoo! report that came out later in the week and meticulously built its case that players from Alabama, Mississippi State and Tennessee had received illicit benefits.

If I work for Sports Illustrated, here's the paragraph that scares me:

Magazines in 2013 simply cannot afford to devote the resources to fact-checking that they used to. On the other hand, they cannot afford to have their credibility undermined so swiftly when they endeavor to pursue transcendent investigative pieces. And it doesn’t help when a competing website releases a more highly praised investigative piece related to the same sport in the same week.

Don't tell me you don't have the opportunity or resources to do your homework on the same week your competitor nails it. This is a long-term problem for SI and as someone who couldn't wait to head to the mailbox on Tuesday or Wednesday as a kid, it kills me to say I think this is the beginning of the end for SI - at least as currently configured. If a print magazine represent such a commitment that it compromises their product to this degree, maybe there should be a conversation about how important that hard copy is.

The current model isn't working for them.

Lou Holtz Loses His Sheeyat

I'll admit it. I'm a petty little man. I hold grudges and I don't forget. So anytime a slobbering idiot who is wearing what should be Don Nehlen's national championship ring only because Major Harris got hurt on the third play loses his shit on national TV and makes an ass of himself, I pop some popcorn and enjoy.

(Seriously, he used JOE PATERNO as an example for why to keep Mack Brown around!! And he was serious!!)


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