ATLANTA — It’s really an age old question — what is the difference between winning and losing?
Perhaps the answer was obvious in West Virginia’s 33-23 opening loss to Alabama in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome.
First, though, let’s go back to Monday and the Big 12 coaches media conference call, when most of the league’s coaches were asked which statistics they check first after a game.
“Turnovers is the No. 1 stat I pay attention to. Great equalizer in every game, good or bad. Taking care of the football is clearly No. 1,” said Kansas Coach Charlie Weis.
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, a man who has won enough that his answer should carry some weight, agreed with Weis.
“Always turnover margin. That’s always a big indicator,” he said.
But is it turnovers?
The only turnover in West Virginia’s loss to Alabama was an interception — and it was made by Daryl Worley of WVU.
WVU is now 69-10 since 2002 when it wins the turnover battle.
Could it be something else?
“Rushing yardage,” said Charlie Strong, the new Texas coach. “I always feel you have to stop the run and make a team one dimensional. Shows how physical you are playing on defense.”
“Number one, you can look at third down,” said the veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who added he looked next at performance in the red zone.
Are you getting the picture?
There really isn’t a stat to look at, and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen seemed to know that.
“I look at stats differently,” he said five days before his opening game. “Obviously points are important. I specifically like being an efficient offense and defense. I pay attention to what you do in critical situations. Turnover margin No. 1. Third down success rate is very important. We were not good at either last year.”
WVU wasn’t good on third down, wasn’t particularly efficient on offense and defense and wasn’t good in the red zone.
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Kevin White showed marked improvement in the opener over a disappointing season last year, finishing with nine receptions for 143 yards and a spectacular touchdown catch.
“Second year,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson when asked to explain it.
Really, it is as simple as that.
He knows what’s expected, has worked an off-season with quarterback Clint Trickett, and built a trust in him as Trickett built one in the receiver.
“That is what he is,” Trickett said of White. “That’s who you will see all season.”
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Mario Alford also had a solid game with five catches for 54 yards and that 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Trickett’s explanation for the return.
“Mario is the fastest guy on the planet,” he said. “He just outran all those guys.”
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There has been much talk of how good a player WVU bandit safety Karl Joseph is but he outdid himself in this game.
Joseph finished the game with 18 tackles, more than the top two Alabama players combined.
Cornerback Daryl Worley, who had been raved about, had a tough first half, but came on strong in the second half and finished with 11 tackles and an interception, while Bridgeport’s Wes Tonkery added nine tackles.
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The Mountaineers spent a lot of effort trying to improve their pass rush but they did not have a sack in this game, although elusive quarterback Blake Sims may have been more responsible for that than his team’s blocking.