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West Virginia’s Next Step To An Elite Defense

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The Mountaineers are fielding a much improved defense in a lot of areas, but must improve in one specific area

Iowa State v West Virginia Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Through three games played, the West Virginia Mountaineers are fielding a much improved defense. Last year, the defense with three new starters on the defensive line and new corners, there were a lot of miscues and a steep learning curve. Many of those growing pains are showing this year as the team has tough against the run and the pass, on third and fourth down and in the red zone, yet there is one specific area that the team has to improve.

Defensive Improvement

Category 2017 Rank 2018 Rank
Category 2017 Rank 2018 Rank
Scoring Defense 90 1
Rush YPG 104 32
Pass YPG 91 44
Total YPG 107 18
3rd Down % 24 23
4th Down % 126 59
Redzone % 79 47
Turnover Margin 105 123
Defensive Improvement 2017 vs 2018

The Mountaineer defense absolutely has to start creating turnovers. As Jordan pointed out earlier this year in his “5 Stats That Will Define West Virginia”, a team with an explosive, high octane offense is often best with a defense that is aggressive and can turn that aggression into turnovers.

When you’ve got a prolific offense and can absorb the occasional gash, this aggressive approach can be devastating. If you can force an extra couple of three-and-outs or turnovers per game, that’s a service break the other team just can’t cope with. You just have to make sure you’ve got the athletes to turn aggression into production.

The offense has lived up to its billing as one of the best offenses in the country, but the defense has not given this explosive offense additional possessions. Through three games, the defense has only generated one interception and one fumble recovery. When your Heisman quarterback is throwing interceptions and starting first quarters slow, the defense needs to get the ball back more.

There is a downside to this. Right now, Tony Gibson has played safe, effective, disruptive defense. Gibson has gambled that putting teams in 2nd and 3rd and long will produce short possessions and give the offense more chances. This is absolutely true and has so far been a big help to allowing the offense to dictate games.

That is a good way to give the ball back to your offense but it does allow teams to Michael Dickson you. The former Texas Longhorns punter put on a MVP bowl performance, punting 15 times for 452 yards and pinning the Missouri Tigers inside their own 15-yard line ten times, inside their own 10-yard line seven times and four times inside the 5-yard line. The offense can avoid being forced to drive the length of the field if the defense can just take the ball away from the opposing team.

The 2016 defense, the last time the Mountaineers won 10 games, the defense took the ball away 25 times. In 2011 they took the ball away 23 times. If the Mountaineers want to get to the next level, they need to generate more turnovers.