The Maryland football program is coming off a season in which it threw an FBS-leading 29 interceptions.
When DJ Durkin and Maryland’s new coaching staff came to town, they immediately emphasized cutting down on turnovers — and they haven’t stopped since.
In 13 years of studying football, Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell has concluded this:
"When we won the turnover and explosive play battle, we won 99.89 percent of the time. So if you can just not turn the ball over, you’ve got a great chance to win. That’s half the variables we got to control," he told reporters Wednesday.
Bell’s Maryland offense now starts every practice with ball-security drills, including snaps, handoffs and passes. But with Bell, it goes deeper than that.
"It’s the daily emphasis," he said. "It’s having a CSI-type investigation in my meeting room with the quarterbacks any time there’s an interception. Really studying the hows, the whys, the ‘what caused this?’"
Maryland had horrible turnover luck two years ago, so things figured to improve, at least from that perspective, in 2015. They didn’t. In 2016, small sample size be damned, Maryland’s turnover luck has been much better. After two games last season, Maryland had four interceptions. Going in to Saturday’s game against UCF, the team hasn’t thrown one yet. No turnovers is a good sign, as is an improvement in expected turnover margin.
|Turnover margin||Expected turnover margin|
|2016 rank(so far)||42||35|
|Via SB Nation's Bill Connelly.|
Last year, Maryland's turnover margin was bad, but the team's expected turnover margin was even worse. This year, the Terps' turnover margin is solid, and their expected margin is even better. That means there's more than luck to this good start.
"At the end of the day, if you just protect the football, you have a chance," Bell said. "Hopefully, schematically, what we do offensively creates enough explosiveness where the offense excels."
An improved quarterback with a simplified mission
As the thrower of 13 of Maryland’s interceptions last year, quarterback Perry Hills has been the subject of much scrutiny early on. So far, he’s aced whatever tests he’s been given.
Bell opened camp this summer saying his quarterbacks would not throw as many interceptions as they did last season because he wasn’t asking them to do as much. So far, it seems his message has resonated. Still, that first turnover is going to happen eventually. It very well could be against UCF.
"It’s gonna happen," Hills said. "You just can’t focus on it. You just gotta do what you’re supposed to do. Two hands on the ball, make the right reads and who knows, it might not happen. But you can’t think about that because then you’ll play scared and make more mistakes."
Bell joked around with Hills this week, saying, "I can’t wait for you to throw an interception just to see how you react."
"Obviously he doesn’t want me to throw any interceptions," Hills said, "but in football, a tipped ball, something will happen. But just how you react. You can’t go down in the tank. You have to forget about it."
Note: If Maryland turns the ball over this week, don’t blame us. It was bound to happen eventually.