AMES — Iowa State football (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) has been getting to the ball in its first three games. The Cyclones are tipping the ball and batting the ball, they just haven’t been able to secure interceptions.
Last Saturday, in the fourth quarter against Akron, Marcel Spears batted the ball in the air and it fell harmlessly to the ground. Ironically, if he would’ve let it go, Willie Harvey would’ve had an easy interception, one that could’ve gone for a touchdown.
The Cyclones have forced just three turnovers through three games. On Saturday, Iowa State plays TCU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) at Fort Worth, Texas, at 6 p.m.
The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 in turnovers with nine — three fumbles and six interceptions.
“We sure have batted the ball around a lot and tipped the ball — it’s right there,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “But that’s how turnovers are. Like I tell our guys, you have to keep running to the football and sprinting to it and the more guys we have there, the better our chances are of getting some. It’s critical, our guys know it.”
Heacock also recognizes that his guys have to stay assignment sound and they can’t just run around trying to force takeaways.
“I think you have to be careful that we’re not going out of our minds,” Heacock said. “We’ve gotten our hands on a lot of balls in practice and our kids have done a good job in games. It’ll start bouncing our way.
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“The crazy thing is, is all the tips. I can’t count the number of balls we’ve tipped in the air and just haven’t gotten to. It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen.”
Iowa State was second in the Big 12 in turnover margin last year at +10. This year, Iowa State’s turnover margin is at -1 thanks in large part to fumbles.
Iowa State only lost one fumble all of last season, and even that fumble was controversial. It happened when running back David Montgomery was diving into the end zone in the Liberty Bowl.
This season, Iowa State has already lost three fumbles — two against Akron last week.
“I think the one thing, if you asked, ‘What’s your greatest disappointment from Saturday?’ The greatest disappointment I see is we’ve turned the football over three times offensively,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “We’re coming off a season where we didn’t put the ball on the ground. Now, we’ve done it three times.
“The No. 1 thing I talked about in our meeting on Sunday was certainly that turnover margin. We are not naïve enough to say that we can win without that turnover margin. That’s critical to our success.”
The two players who lost fumbles against Akron were redshirt freshman receiver Tarique Milton and junior running back Sheldon Croney. While Croney did get some time last season, this is his first year playing significant snaps.
“For us, we have a lot of new guys handling the football this year,” receivers coach Bryan Gasser said. “We’re a couple of games in and some of those guys have gotten on the field and gotten touches, but still, the emphasis of making sure that the football is our most prized possession. We have to take care of that thing.
“Tarique’s fumble happens before the contact even happens. For him, it has to be squeezing the air out of the ball and getting that thing locked up. This opponent is really good and if you give them extra possessions, they’re dangerous enough to make you pay for it.”
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As the Cyclones get into the meat of the Big 12 schedule, they’ll have to get the turnover margin back on the positive side if they want to have the success they expect from themselves.
“The emphasis is on both sides of the football,” Campbell said. “Offensively, taking care of the football — defensively, continuing to find ways to create turnovers. We’ve had opportunities on the defensive side to create some of those, we just haven’t gotten there, or were just inches from creating that turnover. Then offensively you have to take care of the football.
“Those are things that are on high red alert for us and we must really strain on both sides of the ball to make that priority No. 1 for us.”
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