Penn State Football: Turnover Margin Not Yet Problem, But Something To Keep An Eye On
A single play can make or break a football game. One turnover can mean the difference between victory or defeat. It could come in the first quarter or in the final seconds. Either way, ball security, as well as the ability to force turnovers is key to the success of any team truly destined to be great.
For Penn State the turnover ratio has gotten off to a rocky start.
So far the Nittany Lions have forced five turnovers while coughing up the ball eight times. Six of the turnovers have come at the hands of the quarterbacks. Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg have both fumbled the ball once. Hackenberg has thrown four interceptions over the course of the first four games. That makes the rest of the offense responsible for two additional turnovers. One fumble goes to running back Zach Zwinak and the other to receiver Allen Robinson.
The good news for Penn State is that the turnover issues are coming from correctable problems. The quarterback fumbles were unforced and Hackenberg's interceptions have been a mixed bag of preventable errors to good defensive plays. So in total, the Nittany Lions have been forced into turnovers far less often than the eight total turnovers might indicate. And it's easier to fix your own little mistakes than it is to try and keep opposing defenses from making plays.
On the other side of the ball Penn State has made some plays as well, having forced five total turnovers in the first four games.
Some turnovers have been left out on the field as well. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman has dropped at least two sure interceptions.
"Coaches do a good job putting us in good situations," Wartman says. "My eyes get real wide when I see that ball coming, I've just got to make the play."
So how does that compare to Bill O'Brien's first year at the helm?
In 2012 Penn State turned the ball over 13 times at an average of 1.08 turnovers per game. This year the Nittany Lions are turning the ball over at an average of twice a game. Defensively, Penn State is down from last year as well, averaging 1.25 turnovers a game. Last year it was 1.83 turnovers a game.
This may not seem like a big difference but Penn State's defense racked up 22 turnovers last year. At the current pace it's on track for just 15.
Hackenberg will continue to improve which should help decrease the number of offensive turnovers. In theory, the defense should improve as well which could lead to a few more takeaways.
In the end, if the Nittany Lions want to make their Big Ten schedule a little easier, turning the ball over less, and forcing a few more turnovers could do the trick.