MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Five games into the 2022 season, West Virginia is still searching for an answer to the question, “How do you create more turnovers?”
True freshman Jacolby Spells’ pick-6 against Virginia Tech on Sept. 22 is the most recent turnover the WVU defense has forced. The Mountaineers nearly picked off a pass in the endzone in the loss to Texas on Oct. 1, but the tipped pass fell into the hands of Longhorns wideout Xavier Worthy for a touchdown.
The play was a prime example of West Virginia’s fortune in the turnover department this year: close, but no cigar.
“We got to make plays on a ball in the air,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “We’ve had so many opportunities. You take the one last Saturday, catch the ball, and there you go. We got to make those.”
So far this season, the West Virginia defense has created just three turnovers. Spells’ interception was the lone interception of the year by the Mountaineers. Lesley’s group has also recovered just two fumbles this season, one of which came in the second half of a non-conference blowout over Towson. The other came in the first half against Pitt, but the offense gave the ball right back two plays later.
The Mountaineers rank last in the Big 12 in both interceptions and fumbles gained, but they are one of just three teams in the league that has a defensive touchdown this season.
“You just have to keep putting it as a focal point of your message throughout the week, and it always has been, and it’s always going to continue to be, whether you’re creating four or five a game or you’re creating none,” Lesley said.
West Virginia’s minus-2 turnover margin ranks ninth in the Big 12 Conference, with only Texas Tech’s minus-7 turnover margin being worse.
It appears WVU’s defense will have chances to improve on its creation of turnovers against Baylor Thursday night. The Bears enter the contest averaging one offensive giveaway per contest. They have thrown a pair of interceptions while coughing up the football three times.
“When those opportunities present themselves against good opponents, you can’t let them go,” said Lesley. “It’s simple things.”
SPEAR Jasir Cox, still in his first year with the program, believes the way to create more turnovers during games begins on the days leading up to kickoff.
“It starts at practice. Our practice habits, they have to be better,” said Cox.
The fifth-year senior knows a thing or two about creating turnovers. Cox played the first four seasons of his collegiate career at North Dakota State and was part of a Bison defense that averaged 20.25 turnovers created per season from 2018-2021.
Cox had a trio of interceptions during his senior year last season.
“When the ball is in the air, we have to want the ball,” Cox said. “We have to understand that the ball isn’t thrown at us. It’s our job to take it away.”
The Mountaineers have been without their top defensive back, Charles Woods, for almost the entire season. The preseason All-Big 12 corner hauled in two interceptions, deflected six passes, and recovered a pair of fumbles in a breakout season with West Virginia last year.
Until he returns, creating turnovers will be a focal point for the coaching staff to the players who are suiting up on game day.
“We just have to create turnovers all around, whether it’s sacks, getting fumbles, or interceptions, as well,” Cox added. “I just think our urgency needs to be a little bit better in that area.”