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Tigers losing the turnover battle

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Tigers losing the turnover battle

Published on -10/12/2012, 10:24 AM

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Fort Hays State University coach Chris Brown has long stressed turnover margin and forcing turnovers in his coaching career. It started when Brown was an all-state player at Liberal High School under legendary coach Gary Cornelsen

"Stress a lot about you can't turn the ball over, and you've got to get a lot of turnovers on defense," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday.

At Pittsburg State University, Brown was a three-time All-American safety and played in the national championship game. Longtime PSU coach Chuck Broyles made turnovers an emphasis. Broyles discussed taking care of the ball and playing aggressive defensively.

"It's always been on my mind," Brown said. "It's a big part of the game. The more turnovers that you create on defense, the better opportunity that you have to win. The more you turn it over on offense, the more you are not giving yourself a chance to win."

At Washburn University, Brown's defenses forced 188 turnovers in his nine years with the Ichabods. He ranked fourth or better in all but one season in forced turnovers. Fort Hays had just 127 forced turnovers in that span. Last year, the Tigers went 4-7 in Brown's first year and ranked near the bottom in virtually every major statistic. However, Fort Hays forced 22 turnovers and finished plus-5 in turnover margin.

This year, the Tigers have struggled with turnover margin, especially last week in a 20-17 home loss to Lindenwood (Mo.) University.

"You take away some stupid turnovers, we are right there with every team in the ballgame," freshman running back Addie Brown said.

Fort Hays dropped to 1-5, 1-5 MIAA. On Saturday, the Tigers will travel to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (1-5, 1-5 MIAA) for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Bolivar, Mo.

"Little things are beating us right now," Coach Brown said. "Turnovers and a few penalties here and there and a few mistakes on offense. We eliminate those things and we are a pretty good football team."

Last year, Fort Hays had nine interceptions and 15 fumbles (eight lost). The Tigers forced 28 fumbles (12 lost) and picked off 10 passes.

This fall, FHSU already has thrown seven interceptions with 17 fumbles (12 lost). The Tigers have forced nine fumbles (six lost) and intercepted five passes. Fort Hays' minus-8 turnover margin ranks second-to-last in the 15-team MIAA. Last week, the Tigers had five turnovers and forced just one.

"Just execute," Addie Brown said of improving the turnover margin. "Coach is calling the right plays it seems like. The offense is doing a good job. Skill players like myself, the quarterback Tarean, we've just got get on the same page, and we just have to execute the play."

Four of the miscues came on poor plays. Redshirt freshman Treveon Albert lost a fumble and said it was completely his fault. Junior quarterback Tarean Austin had two interceptions, both on what coach Brown called bad throws. Junior Keaton Callins fumbled a punt at his own 15-yard line. The fifth turnover came on an Addie Brown fumble, but was a strange play.

"Kind of a freak accident thing," Brown said. Addie Brown saw a big hole and freshman guard Matt Erbert was pancaking a defensive player. Brown saw the hole and didn't protect the ball as well. As the opponent was going to the ground because of Erbert's block, his foot came up underneath and hit the ball in Brown's hand. It popped out.

Defensively, Brown is different than many coaches. Often, the two statistics most discussed on gauging a defense's strength is points allowed and yards allowed. However, Brown is not worried about the yardage total. On the wall outside of his office, the team has three main goals: points allowed, third down conversion rate and turnovers forced. Fort Hays would like to force at least three turnovers a game.

"It doesn't matter to me how many yards we give up to a team. As long as they don't get into the end zone, I am OK with it," Brown said.

"Our big thing is keep points off the board, keep everything in front of us. Bend a little bit but don't break and teams in this league, they want big plays. If you give them big plays, they are going to capitalize on them and they are going to score a lot of points, so our main goal is to keep everything in front, break on the ball and get turnovers out of it."

Throughout Brown's tenure, Fort Hays has produced multiple turnovers in the red zone. That included an interception by senior cornerback Keke Paul in the end zone last week. The Tigers rank second in the MIAA in red zone defense.

"I think it's easier because your back is against the wall and I think it really helps because you are almost like you are on a cliff and you can't fall off the cliff," senior linebacker A.J. Woodall said of defending the red zone. "It's a different mindset, a different mentality, and it's a shorter field for them."

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