Jim BUrton Extra Point Graphic

 

Fair warning, folks. You’re about to read a statistic. More than one, probably.

Look, I’ll be honest. As a guy who gets to write about sports for a living, I understand why stats are important. In the right light, they offer little glimpses into an athletes’ performance for a game, a season or even a career.

Stats reveal where a team succeeded and where it failed, where it was dominant and where it was dominated.

In the sports world, stats are critical because they’re a measuring stick and they provide context and meaning.

On the other hand, stats can be really boring and they can turn an otherwise interesting story into real snoozer if you let them get away from you.

So, fair warning: stats ahead.

Going into Saturday’s homecoming game with Cal Poly, Weber State ranked No. 119 out of 121 FCS teams in a statistical category known as turnover margin. The Wildcats had given up 11 turnovers (seven fumbles, four interceptions) but had gained only two (a pair of interceptions), giving them a margin of negative nine.

For those of you who are still reading, hang in there. A story is coming.

But first, more statistical stuff.

Weber State lost Saturday, 30-24, at Stewart Stadium. The Wildcats are now 0-6 on the season, 0-2 in Big Sky Conference play. Against Cal Poly’s potent triple-option running attack, the ‘Cats allowed 289 rushing yards on the Mustangs’ 66 attempts. That’s actually a pretty good number considering Cal Poly came into the game averaging a little more than 335 yards per game.

Statistically speaking, Weber State’s defense did its job. It was good enough to stop the Mustangs’ late in the game and allowed the offense one last shot at a game-winning drive.

But the ‘Cats are still winless. They played well but couldn’t get the job done; they simply weren’t good enough.

OK, now here’s a story behind the stats.

While he is pleased that his team has made some nice strides here and there, WSU coach Jay Hill remains a frustrated fellow. One reason why is that the ‘Cats can’t quite seem to figure out how to improve their turnover margin.

They recovered a fumble Saturday and that’s a good thing. But they also lost a fumble and quarterback Billy Green threw an interception. So they finished minus-1 for the game and have now lost 13 turnovers for the season, with only three gained.

They’re now minus-10 and that stinks.

“Every time you lose the turnover margin, you’ve got a good chance of losing that game,” Hill said. “That’s about the discrepancy in our losses right now. If we have a plus-1 in our favor, we win that game.”

Hill, an excellent defensive back once upon a time at Utah, is a defensive-minded coach who constantly emphasizes the importance of takeaways to his team. In fact, he preaches it so much he worries that he’s actually harping on it too much.

“We’ve harped on it, we’ve talked about it almost ad nauseam,” he said. “We’ve got to get it fixed.”

Hill said the ‘Cats practice forcing turnovers, whether they be fumble recoveries or interceptions. They’ve instituted a system whereby the first player to force a turnover receives a reward of some sort. Hill has personally called other coaches looking for idea to help pick up a few more takeaways.

“We’re doing everything in the coaching realm,” Hill said.

The ‘Cats are close to getting that first win, so close Hill said, they can almost taste it. But the line between that first win and yet another loss is very thin. It’s often just one or two little things.

Turnover margin is one of those things.

“We’ve got to overcome it,” Hill said. “We will.”

And that, folks, is the story behind the stat.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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