With improved defense, Maryland football winning the turnover battle in Big Ten

When he was offensive coordinator at Maryland the past two years, Walt Belt often cited a well-worn statistic about the correlation between winning games and turnovers.

“If you win the turnover battle, you’ll win 99.89 percent of the time,” Bell said.

Matt Canada, who was brought in to replace Bell after he left for Florida State in January and was promoted to interim coach after DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August, preaches the same mantra.

While not exactly accurate in terms of percentage, Maryland’s success this season in winning the turnover margin has translated into three of its four victories. The Terps had five interceptions and committed just one turnover in Saturday’s 34-7 win over Rutgers.

Going into this week’s game at No. 19 Iowa, the Terps lead the Big Ten in turnover margin, having creating 14 while giving up the ball only five times. Maryland leads the conference with 12 interceptions.

While Canada professes not to know much about his team’s defense given he has only been paying attention to the unit the past two months, he understands what the turnovers have meant.

“On defense, we talk about getting the football. That’s something that’s been going on here," Canada said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I think whoever got it has a chance to score.

“We’re trying to be around the ball. We’re trying to get takeaways. We’re trying to strip the ball. We’re trying to be ballhawks when the ball is in the air and act like it’s our ball and not theirs.”

Along with the five interceptions, the Terps also took possession when freshman linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall) recovered a high floating kickoff at Rutgers’ 23-yard line late in the first quarter.

The recovery, which came on the kickoff following senior running back Ty Johnson’s 65-yard touchdown run for the game’s first score, set up a 39-yard field goal by freshman kicker Joseph Petrino.

Speaking Tuesday of Campbell’s recovery, Canada said, “We obviously watched it on film, we showed our football team. He’s flying down the field on the kickoff team.”

While the ball took a fortunate bounce for Maryland — Canada compared it to a shot sand wedge spinning back on the green — Canada said “his effort of flying to the football and doing his job got him around the football.”

All five of the turnovers Maryland has made this season have been by quarterbacks, including a fumble by redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill against the Scarlet Knights.

Hill, who threw a career-best three touchdown passes Saturday, fumbled deep in his team’s territory, but it was immediately followed with an interception by junior defensive end Byron Cowart.

“We start every day with ball-security [drills]. We’re trying to hold the football, protect the football,” Canada said. “If you’re given the privilege of carrying the football, that's a really big honor because the whole team is counting on you to do your job because you’re not more important than the other 10 guys on the field, but you do have the ball.”

Asked how he teaches his offense, specifically his quarterbacks, to not throw interceptions, Canada joked, “We just tell him to throw it to the open guy on our team [in practice].”

Turning serious, Canada said the defense spends time reading coverage.

“Every play, we’re going to look at what they do and wherever that defender goes, we’re going to find the next guy,” Canada said. “As simple as it sounds, we’re going to try to throw it to the one they’re not covering.”

Canada said there’s a fine line between a big play and a busted one.

“Six inches will make you a star. We talk about that a lot,” Canada said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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