WVU football: Creating turnovers an issue for defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- That West Virginia defense that allowed only 40 points in the first three games gave up 30 in Saturday's loss to Maryland and readies now for back-to-back games against the top-ranked and 10th-ranked scoring offenses in college football.
Yet that same defense didn't get much help in defeat.
The Terrapins scored touchdowns after four of WVU's first five turnovers - and they took three knees to end the game after the sixth. One score was an interception return touchdown, and Maryland's three other touchdown drives following a turnover were six, 24 and finally 89 yards when it was already 30-0 late in the fourth quarter.
"That last drive, I put them in tough situations blitzing and trying to make something happen," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said following the 37-0 loss. "I wasn't worried about anything but trying to get the ball back one more time.
"I put our cornerbacks in a tough spot there. (Maryland) knew we were playing man and knew we were blitzing. I didn't care. I wasn't worried about yards. I was just trying to get the ball back for the offense."
The Mountaineers (2-2, 0-1 Big 12), who play host to No. 11 Oklahoma State (3-0) at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field, stopped the Terrapins just once after at turnover. They'd been much better at that in the first three games. WVU's defense allowed just 10 points following six turnovers in the first three games.
William & Mary kicked a field goal after WVU's one turnover in the season-opener, and that was a 22-yard drive following a sack and fumble late in the first half. The Mountaineers then had four turnovers against Oklahoma, but the Sooners managed just one touchdown. WVU answered its final three turnovers by forcing two OU turnovers and then a punt. The only WVU turnover against Georgia State preceded a Panthers punt.
There was no such luck against the Terrapins, and Western Kentucky (15) is the only team in the country with more than WVU's 12 turnovers.
"I do think defensively we competed, but we had some chances to make something happen in the first half and we didn't," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We're far from a suffocating defense, but I do think we competed defensively."
The first chance followed WVU's first turnover, that being a muffed punt return by Ronald Carswell, who later waved off teammates when he let a punt hit the ground, but then fielded the punt and stood there until he was tackled.
Maryland had first-and-goal at the WVU 6-yard line when quarterback C.J. Brown didn't see an open receiver in the corner and instead threw over the middle.
Mountaineers linebacker Jared Barber, who couldn't intercept a pass inside the Maryland 15 two possessions earlier, let Brown's pass slip through his fingers and find tight end Dave Stinebaugh in the back of the end zone.
"He was in great position," Patterson said. "I thought, 'There it is, another big turnover,' but it was a missed opportunity. It's one of those things where when our back is against the wall, we've got to be able to take advantage of a great opportunity to get the momentum back in our favor."
Maryland scored after WVU's third turnover, but the Mountaineers had only six yards to defend after Ford Childress had a pass deflected and then intercepted by linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil.
Brown's 1-yard touchdown run came on third-and-goal, though, and made the score 30-0 at halftime.
"You can't point fingers at one person or at the offense or the defense," nose guard Shaq Rowell said. "They scored on us. Period. Point blank. So what, the offense got shut out? At the end of the day, we've got to get stops like we did at Oklahoma.
"We turned it over a lot, but we stopped (the Sooners). We didn't stop Maryland. They scored three field goals and four touchdowns. That's embarrassing."
The Terrapins managed 330 yards of offense, more than 120 fewer than what they had averaged the first three games.
"I knew they weren't going to get anything close to that," Patterson said. "(The defenders) fought hard in the second half. They could have laid it down, but they played extremely hard."
That can't change, especially if the offense continues to sputter. The Cowboys average 487.7 yards per game and are No. 10 with 45.3 points per game. They also have one turnover in 222 offensive snaps. After Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers play at Baylor (3-0), which leads the nation with 69.7 points and 751.3 yards per game. The Bears have three turnovers in 229 snaps.
"It's a team sport," Patterson said. "Anytime we take the field, our goal is to get the ball back to the offense as fast as possible. That's a great opportunity to go out and create positive momentum if you can create a turnover."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.