No one stresses the importance of turnovers more than Penn State coach James Franklin.
With Iowa first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in turnover margin and the Nittany Lions 13th, their Big Ten showdown Saturday at 4 p.m. (TV-FOX) in Iowa City likely will come down to which team protects the football better.
“Turnovers equate to winning as much as anything,” Franklin said. “They’re doing a lot of things well. That’s the thing they’re doing right now that makes them special.
“That’s going to be the story of the game, us continuing to do a great job of protecting the football and for us to create a few, too.”
Fourth-ranked Penn State (2-0, 5-0) has a plus-6 ratio with nine takeaways and three giveaways.
The third-ranked Hawkeyes (2-0, 5-0) have 12 interceptions and four fumble recoveries, including six interceptions and a fumble recovery last week in a 51-14 rout at Maryland. They also have just four giveaways for a plus-12 ratio.
In addition, they’ve returned three turnovers for touchdowns and shortened the field several times for their offense.
“Turnovers will be extremely critical,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said, “but it’s critical every single week. We talk about the turnover battle all the time, so it’s nothing new.
“It’s emphasized because of how well they’ve been doing with 16 turnovers and leading the country. It’s definitely a stat that pops out. It doesn’t change our philosophy. We’re a take-care-of-the-ball type team anyway.”
In last year’s game, the Lions committed four turnovers that Iowa converted into 24 points in a 41-21 loss. Will Levis, starting for the benched Clifford, lost two fumbles. Clifford entered the game in the third quarter and threw for touchdowns on consecutive passes, but he also was intercepted twice.
That dropped Penn State to 0-5 with a turnover margin of minus-9. Since then, the Lions are 9-0 with a ratio of plus-7.
“It’s going to be a crucial challenge,” Lions offensive tackle Rasheed Walker said. “Everyone knows that Iowa plays its game off turnovers. They want to win the possession battle.
“If we can keep the ball out of their hands, we’re going to have a really, really good chance of being successful. I think Cliff and all the other guys have been doing a great job with that. We should be fine.”
Penn State has made seven interceptions in five games compared to four interceptions in nine games last year. Safety Ji’Ayir Brown leads the Lions with three picks.
“Turnovers are definitely something that we pride ourselves on as a whole defense,” cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields said, “but especially in the DB room. We want to get our hands on the ball (with) deflections, PBU’s (pass break-ups), interceptions, just trying to create havoc back there.
“When you go into a big game and you create turnovers, that flips momentum. That sets our offense up perfectly with field position. Our goal is always to get three turnovers a game or more. That’s going to be big for us, especially on Saturday.”
Iowa junior quarterback Spencer Petras has thrown just one interception in 137 attempts so far, and the Hawkeyes have lost three fumbles.
Penn State has turned it over three times, all interceptions by Clifford: one when he was hit as he threw against Auburn, one when KeAndre Lambert-Smith dropped a pass into the arms of a Villanova defender and one last week when he threw behind a receiver.
He did not throw an interception two years ago in Penn State’s 17-12 win at Iowa.
“They do a good job of being in the right place all the time,” Clifford said. “They’re very assignment sound. They don’t do a ton, but they’ve mastered what they do.”
Franklin said there are several reasons why Iowa is so effective at creating turnovers.
“They’ve done a good job with it over multiple years,” he said. “Their scheme, more times than not, allows them to capitalize on mistakes because they have their eyes on the quarterback as much as anybody in college football.
“They obviously do a great job of coaching it, drilling it and teaching it. I also think the length they have at defensive tackle and defensive end plays into that because they’re able to get their hands on some balls.”
Source: Berkshire mont