Driving It Home

WVU must sustain more drives, even if they don't result in scores, to have a successful 2002 season.

Thirty-nine times last year, WVU got only three plays on an offensive series that netted less than ten yards before being forced to punt or encountering the end of a half.

On thirteen other drives, the Mountaineers recorded three plays or less before turning the ball over via interception or fumble.

That's a staggering 52 possessions, out of a total of 163, where West Virginia failed to record a single first down. No wonder the record was 3-8!

This season, that stat must change. Even if WVU doesn't score, getting a couple of first downs per drive and keeping the ball for more than 45 seconds has a lot of benefits.

The obvious ones are giving the defense a rest and keeping the opposing offense off the field, but there's also things like changing field position.

Say WVU gets the ball on it's 25 yard line. On a three and out, the punt will come from around the 30, and with a net punt of 35 yards, the opponent will have the ball on their own 35. That's good field position for the opponent.

Instead, let's say WVU gets a couple of first downs and moves the ball out to midfield. Then, a punt might pin the opponent back on their own ten, or no worse than their own 20. That's a 15 yard difference. Put enough of those together in a game, and a change in the score is almost guaranteed.

On the flip side, WVU's defense actually did better in this category than their opponents last season. Forty-six enemy drives ended in a three and out sequence. Unfortunately, what hurt the Mountaineer defense the most was the big running play. WVU would be stingy for a few plays, then bang. A big 40 yard run or 30 yard scramble would put the opponent in scoring position.

The new 3-3 stack defense aims to change that stat by making it simpler for defenders to make their read and pursue to the ball, but like any other strategy, it's only as good as the players who execute it. The defense should be better this year, but whether it's good enough to bet WVU into bowl contention remains to be seen.

Finally, it's no secret that WVU's offense must produce a few big plays of their own. But did you know that the offensive unit recorded only 35 plays of 20 yards or more last season? That's an average of barely three per game. That number must grow rapidly for the Mountaineers to make a charge at a winning season in 2002.

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