College Football: Turnovers the story for Wake Forest so far
By Joedy McCreary
WINSTON-SALEM ó Sam Swank had a rare case of the shanks, so Wake Forest’s trusty kicker came off the field at Florida State with an order for linebacker Aaron Curry.
“He told us to just go out there and get the ball back,” Curry said Tuesday.
They did ó again and again.
The nation’s most turnover-happy defense took it away from the Seminoles seven times. It has forced a Bowl Subdivision-best 15 takeaways and is tops in turnover margin.
And a year after the No. 16 Demon Deacons led the FBS by turning eight turnovers into touchdowns, they’ve continued to show that nose for the ball while establishing themselves as the highest-ranked team in the ACC.
“We took the mentality in the offseason that we’re not going to be satisfied with what we did last year, turnover-wise,” Curry said. “We’re going to come out there, and we’re going to find more ways to make bigger plays. We figured that with us playing like that last year, everybody was going to game-plan not to turn the ball over, make the safe throws. So every chance we get to make a big play, we’re going to make it.”
The Demon Deacons have made the most of those chances during their perfect start, forcing at least three takeaways in each of their three victories. Nearly half of their 83 points this season have come after turnovers, and takeaways led to two field goals during last week’s 12-3 victory at Florida State.
That total would have been even higher had Swank not missed two other attempts in that game.
“We were kind of like, it’s an opportunity (for the defense) to make big plays,” Curry said. “We were excited to be back out there.”
That’s because they weren’t out there all that long, and that has led to perhaps the only downside of having such a thieving defense: More turnovers mean fewer snaps for the defensive players and less opportunity to build depth and gain experience.
“We’re trying to get more guys on the field … but it seems like the games, we just don’t have a lot of snaps going around right now,” Grobe said.
Wake Forest’s defense was considered a proven commodity entering the season, after ranking 27th nationally in 2007 while holding five of its final six opponents to 20 or fewer points. But there was uncertainty about the effects of a coaching shakeup when longtime coordinator Dean Hood took the head job at Eastern Kentucky and Brad Lambert was promoted to take his place.
“Things are a little bit more laid back, as long as we’re laying it all on the line,” Curry said. “Coach Lambert always tells us (that) on gameday when he loses his cool, we can lose our cool. As long as we’re out there laying it on the line, it’s going to be relaxed and calm, but the second that we go out there and just blow a whole drive or something, that’s when things get a little tense.”
One key at Wake Forest’s turnover-forcing success can be found in the film room, where safety Chip Vaughn said the assistants hand out a checklist with tips, tendencies and other pointers to look for on the tape. It helped the Demon Deacons intercept Christian Ponder’s passes on the Seminoles’ first and last plays of the game.
“It was all film work. … We saw some tendencies on film that the quarterbacks did that kind of gave us a heads-up,” Vaughn said. “We translate that to practice, start seeing that every day, it becomes second nature to us.”