Mountaineers Relish Competition as Spring Wears On - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers Relish Competition as Spring Wears On

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WVU co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest looking for competition in spring. WVU co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest looking for competition in spring.
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MORGANTOWN -

College football teams around the nation are finding that their biggest enemies this time of year are their own teammates.

No, not in a negative sense, but in the sense that the only competition on the field comes from each other.

They may have a different base dyes in their jerseys, but the color scheme is the same. It may be offense versus defense, but in the fall they will compete as one.

This isn't the fall, though, and no other teams are coming to Morgantown any time soon, so the only way to get a gauge of West Virginia performance is to pin it against itself.

"They are competing. If you don't have that, then you got problems," says WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Offensively, those guys want to win, but defensively, those guys want to win. It is not a competition. Make yourself better. Make your unit better. Make your team better."

That jawing is welcome at this time of year, so long as it stays on the field and not in the locker room or outside the facility. It is seen as a way of pushing each other while maintaining some sort of competitive fire.

And don't think it isn't competition just because the head coach says it's not. These players want to get the better of others at their own position and the best way to accomplish that is by beating the teammate across the line of scrimmage.

With that in mind, situational football becomes even more important so that there can be calculations of how many times one unit tops the other. The defensive staff keeps tabs of how many third downs they win against the offense and how many turnovers they get per practice.

Both are statistics equally coveted by the players and coaches on either side of the ball.

"We don't put it on the wall, but we have it on a sheet," says offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "We create situations because if you don't create situations, and you're just out there running plays, then kids aren't thinking about the game. Kids aren't thinking about, ‘Well, it's third down,' or whatever, they're just thinking about making plays and that's not everything in football."

On Thursday, the defense won the majority of third downs and came up with four turnovers, but that was after a Tuesday in which it was called out for falling short of its goals. Punishment isn't severe, but the numbers are noted and harped on until they are corrected.

"If they don't get off the field on third down, they've got to stay out there another down, so that's a penalty in itself," says co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.

DeForest was part of an Oklahoma State team last season that led the nation in turnover margin. He is aware of just how important the statistic was in pushing the Cowboys to a 12-1 record and the staff is stressing that importance to their players now.

"It's just emphasis," says associate head coach Steve Dunlap. "It's like Coach [Don] Nehlen used to say – you tell them 10 things, they won't remember anything. You tell them two or three that are really important, that's what they're going to remember. The focus is stopping people on third down and creating turnovers. That's what we're doing."

Sophomore linebacker Shaq Petteway says DeForest has a goal of reaching 35 turnovers by the time spring practice concludes, but that number may need to be raised because the defense had already surpassed 20 after eight practices and is continuing to take advantage of mistakes in team periods.

The stat will take on a whole new level of importance in the fall and if you ask the only remaining member of last season's defensive staff, there is a specific number in mind for each game.

"I've done this for a long time and with defensive guys, if you get three turnovers in a game, you're going to win a lot of games," says Dunlap. "So obviously I would say our goal is probably three turnovers a game."

Offensively, it is much of the same. Dawson would like to limit the turnovers while also excelling at what he feels may be the most important statistic in football – third down conversions.

"I think that's part of the progression of being a better football team is understanding there's a heightened sense of awareness about defensively when to get off the field and offensively, when it's third down, we've got to convert," says Dawson.

The introduction of live scrimmages Sunday takes the competition to a whole new level, but it is something the Mountaineers – and any college football team – need to stay motivated and hungry for what awaits them in the fall.

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