Profiting on takeaways next step for West Virginia

Dana Holgorsen couldn’t help but be pleased with the opportunistic nature of West Virginia’s defense in 2015.

The Mountaineers led the Big 12 with 31 takeaways, which ranked No. 5 among FBS teams a year ago. Yet when West Virginia’s head coach took a closer look at the impact of those takeaways he couldn’t help but feel his team still had work to do.

“Last year, we had 31 turnovers, and we averaged two yards every turnover,” he said. “We are really focusing on our defense and the mentality that needs to exist once you get a turnover.”

West Virginia sat atop the league in takeaways but found itself in the bottom half of the league in points off turnovers. The Mountaineers 82 points off turnovers ranked sixth in the Big 12 and their 2.65 points-off-turnover average was better than only Kansas (2.11). Despite a Big 12-high 23 interceptions, the Mountaineers managed just 82 interception return yards and one fumble return for 42 yards and one touchdown.

“Everyone says ‘win the turnover margin,’ but it’s what you do with those turnovers that counts,” Holgorsen said. “Unless you win the turnover margin by three or four, that’s not what counts. It’s what happens after the turnovers. We weren’t very good at that last year, offensively and defensively.”

The change in focus was readily apparent during the spring game on Saturday as interceptions were returned all the way to the end zone even after the play was blown dead during the final scrimmage before preseason camp. It’s the approach Holgorsen has taken this offseason to make sure the entire team understands the importance of taking advantage of turnover opportunities.

“We have to make sure we do something with those turnovers,” he said. “Every turnover that we had in the spring, we told our defense that they have to score. Everyone has to lead that way. That’s what it has to look like next year.”