PSU defense focused on forcing turnovers

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Michael Mauti doesn't have to pull shoulder-pads over his head or sprint sideline-to-sideline to think about forcing turnovers. He's reminded everywhere.

On his way to and from meetings, where he watches film or takes mental notes, he swipes at a football connected to a spring on a wall. His coaches installed the project so the defense would remember, every day, every time they walk past it, to focus on the pigskin.

"It's on a spring, so we punch at it or rip it out," Mauti said Tuesday. "That's just kind of subconscious. Anytime you see a ball, you're ripping at it."

Penn State's new emphasis on takeaways has paid more dividends than 1990s Amazon stock. In the last two games, the defense has created eight turnovers -- which currently ranks No. 8 in the nation.

Tip drills, interception drills, strip drills, strip-sack drills: You name it; Penn State's tried it Defensive end Deion Barnes said he consciously envisions ripping that pigskin out every time he rounds the corner after the quarterback.

Three times, he's blind-sided the quarterback this season. And, twice, he forced the ball loose.

"We definitely did, after the Ohio game, focus on stripping the ball and being able to force turnovers," Barnes said.

Even Mike Hull, a reserve linebacker, has been impacted by the new tactics. He scooped up his first fumble recovery Saturday and rumbled 74 yards for his first career touchdown.

If it seems like this defense's priorities have changed since a turnover-less Week 1, that's because they have, players said.

"Ever since that game," safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said, referring to Ohio, "we came in with that mentality that we were going to go after the ball, go after the ball, and we have been doing that since."

Only Kansas has forced more fumbles (7) over the last three games. That's been a boost to a defense that has otherwise struggled on third downs.

More than a third of the drives for PSU opponents have ended in turnovers. The Lions caused eight turnovers in two weeks; they forced five punts.

"We have been really fortunate that our players have done a great job of going out on the field and taking the drill work to the game field," Bill O'Brien said.

"Hopefully, it continues."