MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's football team returns to practice today to work on the issues produced during Coach Bill Stewart's all-encompassing review of his football program.
The paramount concern for the cellar-dwelling Mountaineers (5-3, 1-2 Big East) is turnovers.
WVU is No. 100 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and last in the eight-team conference in turnover margin at minus-0.67 per game (minus-5 through eight games).
The 17 turnovers lost ranks No. 92 nationally and also last in the Big East.
"We are going to do a very intense turnover circuit - tires and bags and running through there like a gauntlet, so to speak," Stewart said. "Nothing harmful, nothing too physical, just a ball-stripping turnover gauntlet."
The Mountaineers, who are off until they play host to Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2) on Nov. 13 at noon, have done it from beginning of spring practice. Stewart said he's witnessed it since joining the Don Nehlen staff in 2000.
That said, WVU has lost 11 of their 19 fumbles and thrown six interceptions.
The work, though, it not intended solely for the offense. WVU's defense, as good as it has been in so many critical areas, needs as much as does the offense.
"We need turnovers (recovered fumbles), not just picks," Stewart said.
WVU has intercepted eight passes - four by cornerback Keith Tandy - matching the league-leading total of Syracuse and Pitt. Only 37 teams have more this season. WVU has recovered only four of the opposition's 13 fumbles. Four of those fumbles and two of the recoveries have come on special teams.
"Why haven't we stripped the ball?" Stewart said.
"Why have we not had the ball pop out? Why hasn't someone grabbed the ball off a running back, like (Connecticut) did the other day? They took one right out of his arms. We've got to work on it."
The offense has indisputable trouble with ball security, but the effect of those turnovers could be minimized if the turnover margin wasn't as severe and half of that goes to the defense.
WVU nearly survived its errors in the 16-13 overtime loss to Connecticut and seemed headed toward a touchdown in OT. Then fullback Ryan Clarke had the team's seventh fumble and fourth turnover on a first-and-goal carry at the UConn 1.
Yet Stewart said the loss was not on Clarke and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel regretted the inability of his defense to get the ball back at least once for the offense.
"We were never able to get the field turned with a turnover and I think that became a difference," Casteel said.