Philosophies Can Differ as Long as You Win

MORGANTOWN – Ask a different coach, you’ll get a different answer on what is the most important statistic in football.

Still, you had to love what West Virginia’s Dana Holgerson said when a writer asked him Tuesday. Coach, what statistic do you look at first?

”The score’s a good place to start,” Holgerson said.


He continued.

”How many plays they get is something that’s pretty important to me,” he said. ”Then you look at turnovers, third downs, how many times they punted, those sorts of things.”

Yards, he said, aren’t always as big as people think.

”Everyone wants to know how many yards a player had, but that’s indicative of the number of plays that you ran. If you get a large amount of yards on a small amount of plays, yards-per-play is pretty important. That’s a big one.”

Then he talked about first downs having a direct result on time of possession.

”Time of possession is the last one I look at,” he said.

Taking a look at some of the drives in the Mountaineers’ last game, a 43-16 victory against UConn, you can see why time of possession means little to him.

After all, how long does it take Stedman Bailey to run 84 yards on one play? Twelve seconds.

West Virginia had five touchdown drives against the Huskies that day. The longest it held it was 2:22, and that covered 50 yards on six plays, ending with a Geno Smith 22-yard touchdown pass to Brad Starks.

Another scoring drive took 10 seconds, counting an incomplete pass the play prior to Tavon Austin’s 12-yard touchdown reception.

In all, the five touchdown drives took 6:02 off the clock. UConn wound up holding the ball nearly 5 full minutes longer than the Mountaineers by game’s end.

So what?

Other coaches swear by turnovers. Depending on where you look, researchers have determined teams that collect more turnovers win 78-87 percent of the games.

The Mountaineers have won 94 percent of their games since 2002 when winning the turnover battle with a 60-4 record.

Holgorsen didn’t mention starting field position – possibly because it’s not listed on your average game summary – but that’s mostly what did his team in against LSU.

All 15 of the Mountaineers’ drives started in their own territory that night, with the average first snap taking place near the 15-yard line. LSU began three drives in WVU territory and started, on average, on its own 45.

Talent disparity aside, that’s what won that game for the Tigers.

Former WVU coach Bill Stewart often mentioned the number of plays run early in his postgame news conferences, and we know he loved to play the field-position game.

Clearly rushing yards were important to yet another former WVU coach. Rich Rodriguez’s teams loved to run, and those numbers remain reflected even in today’s game notes.

For example, when the Mountaineers have outrushed their opponents dating back the last 75 games (more than half of those remain under Rodriguez’s watch), their record is 63-12. In 2005, the Mountaineers ran the ball 76 percent of the time and went 11-1 and won the Sugar Bowl.

They’ve outrushed their opponents just twice this season with Holgorsen showing that when he commits to something, he does it Texas-sized. Lone-star state resident Dustin Garrison’s 291 yards against Bowling Green remain the best single-game effort in the FBS this season. WVU outrushed the Falcons 360-103 that day.

That leads to stopping the run. We’ve all heard it: Run the ball, stop the run, and you win. The Mountaineers, under those three coaches, are 52-4 when holding the opponent under 100 yards.

What does it all mean?

Nothing. There is no tried-and-true method of winning football games. Different coaches do it in different ways. Under those three coaches, the Mountaineers have won 93 of 132 games (70 percent).

The real secret is whatever you decide is important to you, do it better than anyone else.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: