Wherever Penn State’s defensive players go, the conversation about takeaways follows.
So far this season, that discussion has translated into an on-field reality for the Nittany Lions, who forced four turnovers in a 45-14 win over Indiana.
“That is very exciting that we can create those turnovers because we talk about it all the time,” said senior cornerback Christian Campbell. “Every day, before practice, after practice, even before the game, after half — we talk about it 24/7. So it’s very exciting that we can get those turnovers.”
Campbell began the Penn State turnover onslaught opportunistically on Saturday when he forced a fumble after Indiana running back Ellison Morgan broke into the second level of the Nittany Lion defense.
After Morgan was wrapped up, Campbell forced the ball out and Jason Cabinda recovered it to negate the big play and flip all of the game’s momentum in Penn State’s favor.
One of the beneficiaries of that momentum swing, offensive lineman Ryan Bates helped the Nittany Lions march down the field and turn Campbell’s play into six points shortly afterward.
“It makes our life easier, honestly,” Bates said. “They make the turnovers and we get better field position.”
Corner Amani Oruwariye was the second member of the Penn State secondary to generate a takeaway, this time undercutting a Peyton Ramsey pass to set the Nittany Lions up on the 21-yard line of the Hoosiers.
The senior, who returned Saturday after missing the previous two games due to injury, prepared well enough to anticipate the route and jump in front of it.
“It felt great,” he said. “I wanted to get back out there with my guys and as soon is a got the opportunity, we knew the scheme they were going to run, the game plan [was to] throw fades, throw back shoulders. As soon as I read it, I just made a play on it. I’m just happy I did.”
Oruwariye said postgame that Penn State’s goal ahead of every contest is to generate at least three takeaways. Saturday’s victory over Indiana marks the third time in five games that the Nittany Lions have met their own mark, with the other two instances coming in victories over Pittsburgh and Georgia State.
The ballhawking attitude exhibited by the Nittany Lion secondary on gameday is the product of a similar attitude in practice.
“A lot of turnovers come from running to the ball,” Oruwariye said. “You know, tipped balls, fumbles, getting on the ball. It’s just little details in practice that we work on.”
Now with 14 turnovers to show for the renewed emphasis on the statistic, the Nittany Lions are averaging just shy of the goal they set out to achieve.
But in comparison to the 21 takeaways Penn State generated over the course of 14 games in 2016 when it posted a negative turnover differential, coach James Franklin is thrilled with the progress his team has shown in that department.
“Defensively, I thought the turnovers were huge,” Franklin said. “We’ve been emphasizing that all offseason. Obviously, the ones we got tonight, I think most of them were off of tackles; either just jarring hits or strips. I’m pleased with the progress that we’re making there. We’re playing really good defense, scoring defense, which to me is the most important number that there is out there.”