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WVU Football: Five “Must Improve” Areas On Offense - Turnovers

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Now that fall camp has started, the Mountaineers look to overcome the program’s worst season since 2001. One area that the offense can definitely improve upon is limiting turnovers.

Holgorsen doesn't like what he sees in the game against TCU last season.
Holgorsen doesn't like what he sees in the game against TCU last season.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

This is the final article in the series that discusses WVU's offense.  This article looks at turnovers.

Offenses that limit turnovers give their teams more opportunities to win for at least two reasons.  First, they keep opposing defenses on the field and potentially wear them out.  Limiting turnovers also has the added advantage of keeping the defense off of the field, allowing them to stay well rested.  Second, offenses that limit turnovers take advantage of field position, particularly when their defense can force takeaways deep within an opponent's territory.

The Plague of Turnovers, Part One:  2013 Compared To Recent History

Last year was simply a disaster when it came to turnovers on offense.  The Mountaineers turned the ball over 32 times - 16 fumbles and 16 interceptions.  WVU ranked 118th out of 123 FBS teams in turnovers lost.

Considering that WVU's offense engineered 182 drives, that's one turnover for every six drives.

Yuck.

Here's how last season's turnover stats compare to WVU offenses from the last thirteen years.

WVU Turnover Margin:  2001-2013

Year

Total Gained

Total Lost

Turnover Margin

Margin Per Game

Record

2013

28

32

-4

-0.33

4-8

2012

20

13

7

0.54

7-6

2011

23

22

1

0.08

10-3

2010

23

28

-5

-0.38

9-4

2009

23

25

-2

-0.15

9-4

2008

28

16

12

0.92

9-4

2007

34

21

13

1.00

11-2

2006

24

17

7

0.54

11-2

2005

31

17

14

1.17

11-1

2004

25

22

3

0.25

8-4

2003

36

20

16

1.23

8-5

2002

34

15

19

1.46

9-4

2001

24

32

-8

-0.73

3-8

Last year's turnovers lost (32) were tied for the most since Rich Rodriquez' first year in Morgantown and the most since Jeff Mullen's last year of running the offense.

The really sad part about the 32 turnovers lost in 2013 is the fact that WVU's defense forced 28 turnovers.  The offense just kept giving the football back to its opponent.  Think about games against Oklahoma, Maryland or Texas.

It's evident from the table above that the Mountaineers finished with winning records all nine times that they possessed a positive turnover margin.

Conversely, when the Mountaineers turned the ball over more times than their opponents, then WVU finished with a winning record only two out of four times.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown of last season's turnovers:

2013 Turnovers By Game

Game

Interceptions

Fumbles Lost

Total

Opponent Total

Turnover Margin

Result

William & Mary

0

1

1

1

0

W 24-17

@ Oklahoma

1

3

4

4

0

L     7-16

Georgia State

1

0

1

1

0

W 41-7

Maryland**

3

3

6

2

-4

L     0-37

Oklahoma State

2

0

2

3

+1

W 30-21

@ Baylor

1

0

1

4

+3

L   42-73

Texas Tech

0

1

1

2

+1

L   27-37

@ Kansas State

1

2

3

2

-1

L   12-35

@ TCU

2

0

2

4

+2

W 30-27

Texas

2

3

5

2

-3

L   40-47

@ Kansas

2

0

2

1

-1

L   19-31

Iowa State

2

2

4

2

-2

L   44-52

**Neutral site game

As stated earlier, turnovers really hurt the Mountaineers against Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas.  Both games against the Sooners and the Longhorns were competitive, winnable games.  In Norman, WVU's defense played well enough to pull off the upset.  Against Texas, the Mountaineers scored 40 points and went to overtime despite committing five turnovers.

Turnovers cost the Mountaineers potential victories against Kansas State and Iowa State.  In Manhattan, WVU fumbled the ball twice in the second half in a 21-12 game.  Against Iowa State, the Mountaineers imploded as four out of their last five possessions ended in costly turnovers that resulted in WVU blowing a 38-21 lead with less than fourteen minutes left in the game.

The Plague of Turnovers, Part Two:  2013 Compared To Conference Opponents

Here's how WVU fared relative to the rest of the Big 12.

2013 Big 12 Turnover Statistics (conference rank in parentheses)

Team

Total Gained

Total Lost

Turnover Margin

Margin Per Game

Record

Oklahoma State

33  (1)

18  (3)

+15

+1.15

10-3

Baylor

29  (2)

16  (1)

+13

+1.00

11-2

Oklahoma

24  (7)

16  (1)

+8

+0.62

11-2

Texas

26  (5)

22  (4)

+4

+0.31

8-5

Kansas

24  (7)

23  (6)

+1

+0.08

3-9

Kansas State

25  (6)

25  (7)

0

0.00

8-5

Iowa State

21  (9)

22  (4)

-1

-0.08

3-9

TCU

28  (3)

30  (8)

-2

-0.17

4-8

WVU

28  (3)

32  (9)

-4

-0.33

4-8

Texas Tech

19  (10)

33  (10)

-14

-1.08

8-5

Despite ranking third in turnovers gained, WVU still finished at the bottom of the conference rankings in turnover margin (ninth) due to turnovers lost (ninth).

As seen above, five of the six teams with a neutral or positive turnover margin had winning records (Kansas being the exception).  Conversely, three of the four teams with negative turnover margins ended with losing records (Texas Tech being the exception).

Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma all limited their turnovers and finished with double digit win seasons.

Diagnosis

One of the bright spots for the Mountaineer defense included forcing 28 turnovers.  Yet, the offense rarely took advantage of these opportunities.

Look at the Oklahoma State and TCU games.  WVU's defense forced three and four turnovers, respectively.  The Mountaineer offense limited their turnovers in both of those games - winning the turnover margin battle.  WVU won both games.

Numerous factors most likely contributed to the plague of offensive turnovers last season.  These factors included an inexperienced offense of only two returning starters (particularly at the skill positions), numerous junior college transfers playing their first year in a Mountaineer uniform, a revolving quarterback carousel, and lack of confidence as the season came to a sour conclusion.

Prognosis

At the Big 12's Media Days in Dallas last week, Holgorsen said that he has "never been more excited about going into a season than he is right now."  Like all Mountaineers, Holgorsen wants to bury one of the worst seasons in recent memory.

This team has the potential to make everyone forget about 2013.

The offense has much more depth and experience than last year.  Six starters return.  Numerous players received lots of playing time, particularly across the line and at the skill positions.

Questions remain regarding whether Trickett and the offense - with a full year in Holgorsen's "air raid" system - possess the talent required to turn experience into improved effectiveness.  That means reducing turnovers and taking advantage of the opportunities that the Mountaineer defense gives the offense as each game's turnover battle and field position plays out.

Time will tell if added depth, more experience and a better understanding of the offense translates into a successful season for WVU's offense.

We're a month away from kickoff.

As always,

Let's Go, Mountaineers!

Series Links:

1.       Offensive Line Play

2.       Quarterback Play

3.       Efficiency

4.       Red Zone Efficiency

5.       Turnovers

*Information/stats for this article come from the following sources:  wvusports.com, cfbstats.com, ncaa.com, WVUStats.com, philsteele.com, espn.go.com, the Times West Virginian, Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview, Lindy's Sports College Football 2014 Preview, Athlon Sports College Football 2014 National Edition, and USA Today Sports 2014 College Football Preview.