Turnovers epitomize the see-saw nature of spring games. The defensive staff pats its guys on the head, the offensive staff shakes his head, and the head coach and fan base are left unsure how to feel.
West Virginia forced four turnovers in its spring game on Saturday, and Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen explained afterward that it’s not enough simply to take the ball away. You must make the opponent pay for their mistake.
“Last year we had 31 turnovers; we averaged two yards every turnover,” Holgorsen said. “We’re really focusing on our defense, the mentality that needs to exist once you get a turnover. Everybody says win the turnover margin, win the turnover margin, win the turnover margin. It’s what you do with those turnovers that counts. Unless you win the turnover margin by, like, three or four, that’s not what counts. What happens after the turnover is what counts, and we weren’t very good at that last year offensively and defensively of making sure that we do something with those turnovers.
“Every defense that we’ve gotten this spring, we’ve told our defense that they’ve got to go score and everybody’s got to lead the way because that’s what it needs to look like next year.”
The numbers back Holgorsen’s assertion up.
A year ago, West Virginia was one of seven FBS teams to force at least 30 turnovers. The other six teams won an average of 10.7 games with all six winning at least nine, and four won their respective conferences. The Mountaineers, however, won eight games and finished tied for fifth in the Big 12.
In a larger scope, there remains no quicker path to victory — or defeat — than winning — or losing — the turnover margin on a consistent basis.
Teams that won the turnover margin by at least a turnover per game finished a combined 79-14 in 2015; those seven teams all won at least 10 games, four (San Diego State, Houston, Western Kentucky, Michigan State) won their conferences and another won its division while losing its conference title game to another team in that group (Navy).
Meanwhile, teams that lost the turnover margin by the same amount finished 29-94 in 2015, and eight of the 10 clubs finished last or second-to-last in their conference or division.