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West Virginia must address turnover plague

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

West Virginia has a week off before getting ready for Colorado next Thursday, and there's no doubt what the No. 1 priority will be during this down time: alleviating turnovers.

The Mountaineers currently are last in the Big East in turnover margin at minus-7. That ties them for 116th nationally, ahead of only three other teams in the FBS.

"If that continues, we're going to have a tough year," said head coach Bill Stewart, whose team led the Big East with a plus-12 turnover ratio last season.

The numbers are skewed, of course, by West Virginia's six-turnover implosion at Auburn last week. But the team also gave the ball away four times in a 35-20 win over East Carolina a week earlier.

"We've got to just be better mentally," Stewart said. "That's all I told the players. I'm proud of the way they played (at Auburn), the physicalness, how tough they were -- man, they played their hearts out. But you have to play from the ears up as well."

The main culprit, statistically speaking, in the turnover spree has been quarterback Jarrett Brown. Though the fifth-year senior rarely if ever threw picks in spring or fall practice, the regular season has been a different story. He has five interceptions and two lost fumbles his past two games.

Not all of those are his fault. The fumble last week came because he was hit on the arm while going to throw. At least one interception happened, Stewart said, because a receiver broke off his route. But Brown also threw two ill-advised middle screens that were tipped and grabbed by an Auburn defender, and he has shown a tendency to try and fit passes into tight windows.

Yet Brown is still completing 68.5 percent of his passes and has a knack for making big plays even when flushed out of the pocket. Stewart pointed out that the Auburn game was just the quarterback's fifth career start, and his first one on the road.

"He's learning," Stewart said. "There's a lot of football to play and I'm glad Jarrett Brown is my quarterback, I'll you that. I bet the state of West Virginia is glad he's their quarterback as well."

Stewart knows, though, that his team can't compete against the better opponents on its schedule without better ball security. He joked that he was beating his head against the wall all day Sunday about the turnover problem. He hopes practice can help fix those problems.

"We can help with some playcalling and help by putting them in some pressure situations," Stewart said. "They know what to do, and we've just got to make sure they do it over and over and over, so it becomes old habit."