Creating more turnovers could propel UB football to a very successful season
I don’t believe in luck in sports, but I like to believe in regression to the mean.
For the Buffalo football team, I was interested in one area of regression: the turnover margin. The Bulls had just two interceptions all of last season – which seemed unfathomable to me. There are teams in both pro and college that pass the ball more than 50 percent of the time. There were six quarterbacks in college football who threw more than 500 passes last season and 41 threw more than 400 times.
Even with the Buffalo safeties having different assignments last season and being more like linebackers, I just didn’t get it. During the offseason, I was curious how the Bulls would address that. How can this new defensive scheme and new set of coaches get the Buffalo ‘D’ to force more turnovers?
I noticed a similar adage: You don’t aim to force turnovers. Rather, having good technique and proper play will force turnovers.
It makes complete sense. In its simplest form, an interception is turning around and being in the proper position to come down with the ball. A forced fumble is grabbing or punching an egg-shaped object at the correct angle to jar it loose from the ball carrier. A fumble recovery is being at the right place at the right time while the ball is on the ground.
And just three games into the 2015 season, the Bulls have already doubled last season’s interception total and recovered four fumbles
Last season, the Bulls defense were a unit struggling to get off the field. They ranked in the middle of the pack of the Mid-American Conference and ranked sixth in total defense despite giving up 46 touchdowns. It was a sight for sore eyes to see a defense, loaded to the brim with experienced defensive players, be the detriment of a team.
Last season, the Bulls’ defense presented the trifecta of bad play: couldn’t stop opponents from reaching the end zone, couldn’t create turnovers and committed sloppy penalties. Forcing turnovers is more than just another stat. An interception can create doubt for the quarterback. A forced fumble not only creates doubt in the ball carrier’s mind, but his teammates as well.
Last season, the Bulls forced 13 fumbles, grabbed two interceptions and finished with a -3 turnover margin.
This year, the Bulls have already eclipsed their interception total, with two coming from junior cornerback Boise Ross. Even though the Bulls’ secondary allowed two 100-yard receivers against Florida Atlantic last week, the Bulls’ secondary had their chance to add to the turnover margin.
The fumble number has yet to be eclipsed, but the Bulls already have five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. The defensive line is still working and improving after the defensive scheme switch but there were moments against the Owls where the Bulls got pressure with only four rushers and shut down the Owl’s running game.
Value to a defense is bringing pressure with just four linemen because it allows everyone else to drop back in coverage and make plays on the ball. Arguably, drop-back coverage is the second-most important adversary to a team in football besides an elite quarterback. In Power 5 football, Oregon does this with from time-to-time by sometimes dropping seven in their 3-4 defense.
A pro football comparison? The New York Giants, who consistently brought a pass rush and even used a four defensive end set, famously known as their “NASCAR” look in their championship-winning heyday not too long ago.
And now, it seems the Buffalo linebackers are on that same path. Senior linebacker Okezie Alozie already has two tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and three pass breakups. Nick Gilbo doesn’t have a forced fumble, but does have an interception, while junior Brandon Berry has played well and forced a fumble of his own.
Those three, including reserve linebackers Travis Pitzonka and C.J. Stancil, give the Bulls some athletic play in the middle of that defense. There isn’t a shortage of playmakers either, as four of those five have at least a forced fumble or interception this season.
The season is young and I’m not sure if the Bulls have played any respectable opponents this year (Penn State is meh), so the sample size is still small. But the Bulls have forced several turnovers this season and if they can continue to have turnover luck, combined with a balanced offense, the Bulls could end up with a great season.
Even better than the one I ever could have imagined.