By Joe Scalzo
While there’s no quick fix for Youngstown State’s woes, there is something it needs to fix quickly.
“We can’t keep turning the ball over,” said Penguins coach Eric Wolford. “That’s something we’ve addressed for weeks now.”
YSU had one turnover through its first four games, all wins. It has 11 over the last three — all losses.
Turnovers aren’t the only problem — the Penguins didn’t turn the ball over in a 35-28 loss to Illinois State — but it’s the most glaring, Wolford said.
“If we get rid of turnovers, we can honestly play with anybody,” Wolford said. “I think if you eliminate the turnovers, there are different results.
“If you’re not taking care of the football, you’re not going to win. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
Wolford isn’t breaking new ground here — even novice football fans understand this on some level — but what’s surprising is just how big of an impact turnovers have had on YSU’s winning percentage since Wolford was hired nearly three years ago.
Wolford is 13-17 with the Penguins, but he’s 10-2 in games when YSU finishes at least plus-one in turnover margin. The lone losses came in his first game against Penn State and last year’s finale against Missouri State (when YSU blew a 17-point halftime lead).
The Penguins are 3-2 when the turnover margin is even and a staggering 0-13 when they lose the turnover battle.
Those results line up with other levels of football.
Boston.com reported that, from 2002-2011, NFL teams that finished plus-one in turnover margin won 69 percent of their games. Teams that were plus-two won 84 percent of the time and teams that are plus-three or above won 93 percent.
In August, a website called MrSEC.com looked at the past five Southeastern Conference seasons and found that teams that finished plus-one in turnover margin won 72 percent of the time. Teams that were plus-two won 81 percent. Teams that finished plus-three or more won 90 percent.
The Penguins’ recent turnover problems are troubling for another reason: the defense isn’t forcing any.
YSU’s defense has just two interceptions this season and has seven total turnovers. Both marks rank last in the conference. (Southern Illinois is first with 22 forced turnovers, thanks in no small part to forcing five turnovers in a win over YSU.)
Not one Penguin defender has forced more than one turnover this season, although safety Jeremey Edwards does have an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Wolford likes to say “the ball is gold” but his team isn’t treating it that way.
Maybe that’s why his team keeps finishing games with the silver.