How the Penn State defense forced three Ohio State fumbles in 2019
Turnovers are the biggest game-changers in football.
It’s a topic Ryan Day emphasized throughout the preseason and continues to harp on entering Ohio State’s battle with Penn State.
“They’re always gonna be hungry when they play us,” Day said on Tuesday. “One thing we gotta do- we gotta do a better job taking care of the football. You look at the last couple of years, you had too many turnovers. Too many fumbles. We’ve gotta do a good job of that this year- it’s something that is gonna be hammered from Sunday night, really until we kick the ball off.”
Last year, the Buckeyes turned the ball over a season-high three times in a 28-17 home win over the Nittany Lions that was closer than it could have been. All three giveaways were fumbles, accounting for nearly half of Ohio State’s fumble total on the season.
The defense James Franklin brings each year is no surprise. The Penn State line will penetrate and swarm ball-carriers, and it’s never just one defender making a tackle. There will be multiple Nittany Lions hitting Ohio State players after first contact, trying to knock the ball free.
The biggest momentum-shift of last season’s matchup came on this Justin Fields fumble.
Ohio State had forced two consecutive Penn State punts and scored on its own first drive, and Fields was leading a seven-play, three-minute drive in which the Buckeyes looked dominant on offense. It appeared Ohio State was on its way to taking a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
For a second, Fields and the offense had that lead. It looks as though the quarterback dives in for a score, but upon further review, it’s clear that Penn State safety Lamont Wade knocks the ball free before Fields lands.
Wade wasn’t the first Nittany Lion to lay into Fields on the run; three separate Penn State defenders attempted to knock the quarterback out of the air and force the ball free. Ohio State ball-carriers must recognize the threat that the second and third hits provide. There won’t be many light tackles made by this aggressive Penn State defense.
Fields accounted for two of the Ohio State fumbles lost against Penn State in 2019- he lost just three other fumbles the entire season. A large part of that was the pressure the first-year Ohio State quarterback faced throughout the game. He ended the game with 21 carries for 68 yards, by far the highest number of attempts of his career.
Against Nebraska, Fields showed a tendency to scramble in high-pressure situations and found plenty of space in front of him. The 2019 Heisman finalist did not take many major hits in game No. 1, but hat won’t be the case if he decides to use his feet against Penn State. His ability to hold onto the ball will be crucial.
Up 21-7 early in the third quarter last season, Ohio State handed the momentum back to Franklin and company once again with two straight fumbles that Penn State recovered and eventually scored off of.
In the first clip, you can see Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons wrap around J.K. Dobbins’ arm and poke the ball free, followed by nearly the entire Penn State defense crusading to the ball. Trey Sermon and Master Teague must be aware of the Nittany Lions’ defensive tendency to poke balls free while making contact.
The final two turnovers Ohio State registered were both a combination of early contact behind the line of scrimmage and aggressive hands attempting to rip the ball away.
On fumble No. 3, Fields is once again hit by a collection of Penn State defenders as soon as he nears the line of scrimmage. Wade is able to reach in and yank the ball away in the midst of the group tackle. The safety ended up tying a Big Ten record with three forced fumbles against Ohio State in the game.
There is zero doubt that Day has talked to his team about the importance of ball security through contact every day this week. After a loss to Indiana in which it held the Hoosiers to just 211 yards, Penn State will be back with a vengeance on defense come Saturday.
The head coach of the Buckeyes was locked in on correcting the mistakes his team has made against Penn State in years past. One fumble, one interception, one sloppy play with the ball in your hands, and the outcome of a game can be completely changed.
“Certainly, when you lose a game like that, everyone just gets a little bit more hungry,” Day said of Penn State’s drive entering Saturday. “We gotta do a great job this week. The issues are there, and we gotta get them addressed. That’s coaching.”
The Penn State defense ranked No. 25 nationally in forced turnovers per game last season. It comes in swarms with active hands ready to pop the ball free.
Temperatures will drop below 40 degrees in State College on Halloween night, so having a handle on the ball will take on even more importance in this game.
After last season’s mistake-ridden performance against the Nittany Lions, Day, Fields, and the entire Ohio State offense knows what they have to do to avoid another turnover festival.