West Virginia Football 2009 Revealed: The Culture of Turnovers

Tim McGheeCorrespondent IIIOctober 2, 2009

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Bill Stewart of the West Virginia Mountaineers against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Footballs have an odd shape and take funny bounces.  Occasionally, even with the most careful player, a ball will be knocked free.  Or the better quarterbacks will have a rare delusion of invincibility and throw into a crowd, setting up an interception.

"Rare" is the key word here because these things can happen to anyone.  If any blame is to be assessed in these cases, hang it on the guy with the ball.

However, if it's a recurring issue, as it is with West Virginia, you have to fault the coaches.  They have set up a culture of not protecting the ball.

I like the optimistic outlook that prevails on the WVU sidelines.  But, this is getting ridiculous.  Subconsciously, the Mountaineers to a man are thinking, "That's okay.  We'll get it back.  Our defense will stop them." Maybe that's cool, until the defense fumbles.

A team can't win without scoring.  That team can't score without the ball.  But, the other team can score if the team with the dropsies continues to offer the gifts.

It doesn't matter how many yards are gained—at Auburn, 508 yards, 6 turnovers; hosting Colorado, 408 yards, 4 turnovers—because crossing the goal line is most difficult if that team continuously hacks it up like a hairball.

Jarrett Brown is a truly amazing athlete, but he carries the ball as if it were his day's groceries from Kroger.  Jock Sanders and Bradley Starks went for an extra yard that proved to be the longest yard.  JT Thomas intercepted a pass, took off, and thought he was Beanie Wells.

The Mountaineers are 1-1 with the most recent spate of turnovers.  Those turnovers prevented West Virginia from making a statement Thursday night.  More importantly, the giveaways on The Plains cost WVU the game.

Minimize turnovers to a positive takeaway number and they're undefeated and Top 25.

How do the coaches set up a culture of treating the ball as if it were the Royal Crown Jewels?

a) Don't threaten the loss of playing time.  That only serves to make the player tentative and tight.

b) Preach that the ball never touches the turf, even after the officials blow the play dead.  This worked for Rich Rod.  His only year of negative takeaways was the 3-8 season of 2001.

c) If there is no receiver obviously open, emphasize to the quarterbacks the value of the tuck and run out of bounds and the throw out of bounds  As Ilie Kuriachan used to say on the really old secret agent television hit "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." "Run, run, run away.  Live to kill another day."

d) In the case of West Virginia, give the ball to Noel Devine.  He rarely fumbles.  Noel is so small, he knows how to protect himself from hits despite running in traffic.

e) Repeat the phrase, "Above all, protect the ball."  Colorado's first hit was on the hand carrying the mail.  You can bet your vehicle that Syracuse will do the same.  For now sacrifice the extra yard by using two hands and keeping the ball close to the gut.

f) Everybody should focus on holding on maintaining possession of the ball.  Focus is like prayer, only no one is asking God to choose sides.

Things have to change.  The Big East is getting tougher by the day.  Syracuse is resurgent.  South Florida has been instilled with confidence.  Pittsburgh is always good to go.  And, Cincinnati...well, Sports Illustrated says the Bearcats have the potential to run the table.

There is no time to take a play off.  Concentrate on the ball.