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The Sober Mid-Week Stats Review: Taking a look at the numbers behind West Virginia’s loss to Maryland

Exactly how bad was that loss on Saturday? Let’s find out!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 West Virginia at Maryland Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 10 games last season, the Mountaineer offense turned the ball over 11 times, with Jarret Doege throwing only 4 interceptions on 374 passing attempts. On Saturday versus Maryland, West Virginia doomed their chances of beginning the season 1-0 with four turnovers.

WVU shot out of a cannon to start the game offensively with three touchdowns on the first four drives. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers would only score one more time during the rest of the game. Here’s a brief recap of the thirteen offensive drives:

1. Long TD drive

2. One first down, then punt

3. Quick TD (after long kick return)

4. Long TD drive

5. Doege bad pick (from midfield)

Winston Wright muffed punt

6. 3 and out

7. End of half

8. Two first downs, then punt

9. Two first downs, then punt

10. One first down, then punt

11. Start from bad punt, Leddie fumble on 3rd down (MD 34)

12. Big return, big play, Doege fade interception (MD 13)

13. Fourteen play drive, FG (keep game alive)

Scoring early and often suggests that the coaches and staff gameplanned well. The dry spell that lasted the rest of the game could indicate a lack of in-game adjustments.

Turnovers are punished in football more than any other game. West Virginia still found itself with several shots to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but a Leddie Brown fumble on the MD 34 and a Doege interception from the MD 13 squandered two crucial drives. The second Doege interception was an incredible defensive play by the cornerback who peeled off his man when Doege thought there was no help over the top, but Ben Booth does make a good point about Doege staring down his receiver the entire time.

Turnovers aside, the Mountaineer offense didn’t have great success on 1st down. First down success rate tells us what percentage of the time the offense is staying on schedule after their 1st down play—here that is defined by gaining at least five yards on first down. With only a 34.5% 1st down success rate, the Mountaineers were setting up second and long about two thirds of the time, forcing the playcalling to rely more heavily on the pass.

One potential bright spot in the offense was the conversion rate on 3rd and 4th downs. In 2019, WVU picked up 34.8% of 3rd downs. This figure improved in 2020 to 39.9%, around the nation-wide average. Saturday, the Eers were 7/15 (46.7%) on 3rd and 4th down conversions.

Another slight improvement was in the explosive play category. Here, an explosive play is a run of 12+ yards or a pass of 15+ yards (though HCNB prefers 15+ yard runs and 20+ yard passes for his tracking). Usually when you dominate the field position game, have more success on 3rd and 4th down, and have more explosive plays, you win the game. If the Mountaineers would have limited the turnovers to 2 or even 3, they probably would have won this game.

I would have liked to make some EPA/rush and EPA/pass comparisons for this game but there were some issues with the play-by-play data that many of us use. Hopefully they will be cleaned up for the rest of the season. Let me know what you think and what metrics you would like to see tracked and discussed in the future.