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Turnover Battle ‘Critical’ Factor For Penn State Against No. 3 Iowa

Every Saturday, James Franklin comes to the podium after each game with his notes in hand, ready to take questions from the media. Before sharing the floor, he starts with an opening statement, which almost always includes statistics about the “turnover battle.”

It’s no secret winning the almighty “turnover battle” is crucial to winning football games. That’s how it’s been for years. Franklin knows that, and it’s why he puts on emphasis on it so often.

In Penn State football’s upcoming matchup against No. 3 Iowa, winning the turnover battle could be more important than ever. The Hawkeyes lead the nation with 12 interceptions, and they’ve recovered four fumbles, too. In fact, they’ve forced 12 more turnovers than turnovers they’ve committed. That +12 ratio is the best mark in the country.

After practice on Wednesday, Franklin said he always has his team do ball-security drills in practice every day. Even when assistant coaches want to switch things up some days, ball-security drills are “non-negotiable.” So, while putting an emphasis on taking care of the football isn’t anything new, the coach has made sure to bring up Iowa’s takeaway prowess in meetings.

“It’s not different this week,” Franklin said. “I have talked about it in the meetings. That’s been a huge part of their success this season. A big reason why they are where they are. We’ve talked about that, but nothing in practice that’s really been different.”

To their credit, the Nittany Lions have done well in the turnover department this season as well. They own a margin of +6, which is the second-best mark in the Big Ten and the 13th-best in the nation.

One of the big reasons for that has been quarterback Sean Clifford. Through five games, he’s thrown 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.

Through five games last year, Clifford had already thrown eight interceptions. Big difference, huh?

Going into Iowa City, Clifford recognizes the importance of playing keep away from a dangerous Iowa defense. However, Penn State is already a “take-care-of-the-ball type team,” already, according to Clifford.

“Extremely critical, but it’s critical every single week,” Clifford said. “We talk about the turnover battle all the time, so it’s nothing new. I think obviously, [it’s] maybe emphasized because of how well they’ve been doing with 16 turnovers, leading the country. That’s definitely a stat that pops out. But yeah, it doesn’t change our philosophy.”

Whenever Iowa is talked about, it’s often about not how much the Hawkeyes throw at you, but how well they do it. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has led the program since 1999, meaning his philosophies have been in place for a long, long time.

“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 mastered what they do, and it makes it really hard for teams to find holes sometimes. Obviously, you just got to play your game, play your brand of football. We’re a physical team, they’re a physical team, so it’s definitely going to be a good game on Saturday.”

On the other side of the ball, Brent Pry’s defense has been flat-out dominant all season. The group has given up just 60 points through five games, which ranks second in the Big Ten behind none other than the Hawkeyes. Additionally, Penn State is right up there at the top of the conference with nine takeaways, trailing only Iowa.

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown has a third of those takeaways with three interceptions. According to Brown, facing the Hawkeyes this weekend is another opportunity for this defense to show what it can do.

“It’s a chance to really go out there and try to be the best secondary we can be,” Brown said. “Iowa’s currently leading right now, and it’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and put on a show for the fans.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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