NO FOOTBALL STATISTIC correlates to wins and losses more than turnover margin. Just ask University of New Hampshire safety Evan Horn.
UNH intercepted four passes during its 26-14 Colonial Athletic Association victory against Towson on Saturday night, and Horn had two of them. Horn also gave the Tigers an extra possession when he fumbled at the UNH 49-yard line during a punt return in the fourth quarter.
Through two games this season, UNH is plus-3 in turnover margin. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the Wildcats have seven takeaways (six interceptions) in those two contests, both victories.
The Wildcats will be looking to add to their takeaway total Saturday, when they play a non-league game at Lafayette.
“Obviously turnovers are a huge part of the game,” Horn said following Saturday night’s win in Durham. “You get a turnover, especially at a home game, and tides can change. It’s a confidence booster I think for the offense as well. Obviously it does a lot for us (the defense) and how we can play. You get a turnover and the offense is like, ‘All right. The defense did their job. Let’s go out and do ours.’ And if we turn the ball over we have to have that mindset that we have their back. It’s a huge part of the game.”
UNH fumbled the ball away three times during its season-opening 27-21 win against Stony Brook, but prevailed largely because it created three turnovers in the game. Two of those turnovers came in the second quarter and resulted in touchdowns that helped UNH build a 20-0 lead.
First, Pop Bush forced a fumble that UNH recovered on the Stony Brook 4. One play later, running back Sean Coyne scored on a 4-yard run.
Two plays after that, cornerback Jonathan Collins picked off a Tyquell Fields pass and returned the ball to the Stony Brook 5-yard line. The Wildcats cashed in when quarterback Bret Edwards connected with Brian Espanet for a 3-yard TD pass.
Both Horn interceptions came at key points in Saturday night’s game. His first pick set up Dylan Laube’s 32-yard TD run in the second quarter that helped stretch UNH’s lead to 13-0, and his second interception ended a Towson drive on the UNH 39 with 59 seconds remaining in the first half and UNH leading 20-7.
“I think turnovers are the key to most of the battles in this league,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said Saturday night. “We didn’t turn the ball over on offense. We made a special teams blunder, but we created some turnovers and that gave us an opportunity to score some points — gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
Another key factor in UNH having the turnover edge through two games is how well Edwards has played. Edwards, a sophomore who became the starting QB when Max Brosmer suffered a knee injury late in summer camp, has completed 41 of 57 passes (71.3 percent) for 494 yards and five TDs. He has not had a pass intercepted.
So far Edwards has been exceptional at sensing — and avoiding — pressure in the pocket, and hasn’t forced throws.
“I think the biggest thing about Bret right now is he’s playing within himself and doing some things that we had hoped he would do — scrambling, throwing the ball away,” McDonnell said. “Really happy for the kid. He’s playing well.”
UNH’s ability to harass opposing quarterbacks has also had a lot to do with what’s been happening at the back end of the team’s defense in the first two games. Two of the team’s three takeaways against Stony Brook were interceptions.
“It caused some of the interceptions because the quarterbacks weren’t able to step into some throws and make those throws cleanly,” McDonnell said. “If you can’t sack them you have to disrupt them. If you can’t disrupt them you have to collapse the pocket and our guys are doing a great job up front. … It’s a combination of two or three different things happening on the defensive side of the ball to create turnovers.”
UNH’s other interceptions have been by Bush (two) and safety Noah Stansbury.
“Usually when you win the turnover battle you win most of the games,” Horn said. “If we can get turnovers and the offense protects the ball we’re putting ourselves in a great position.”