Boston College’s defense hasn’t come up with any of the gimmicks that make turnovers trendy or get play on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
The Eagles don’t have the Turnover Chain that the University of Miami has made famous the past two years. They didn’t break out the Turnover Pencil like the University of Akron did last week. They haven’t gone to Dave & Buster’s to hand out prizes for takeaways.
But the Eagles, 2-0 heading into Friday’s game against Kansas, have the second-most takeaways in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the second-most in the nation this season. Through their first two games, the Eagles have gobbled up two fumbles and picked off five passes.
They save their celebrations for the meeting rooms.
Redshirt freshman defensive back Tate Haynes has been in on a lot of it. He came up with a strip-sack in BC’s season opener, then made a heads-up play on a tip drill for a pick last week against Richmond.
But both times, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan made sure to remind him where those quick reflexes came from.
“That’s something that Coach Sheridan points out,” Haynes said. “ ‘Isn’t this something we work on?’ ”
The work has been part of the Eagles’ routine since the end of last season. Each practice, BC’s defense runs through a series of drills designed specifically to swipe, strip, punch, or snare the ball away from the offense.
“What Coach Sheridan says to us every day is that no one in the country is going to practice the turnover circuit as much as we do,” said linebacker Max Richardson. “We do that three times a week and we rotate between the turnover circuit every day.”
The idea is to make strip-sacks, second-man-in swipes, and eyes-up interceptions seem second nature.
“For us, it did not happen all of a sudden,” Richardson said. “One of the major points that we focused on throughout the summer — and even in spring ball — is getting the ball out, creating game-changers, creating turnovers. So we had been working on that for months, almost a year. It’s just technique so that when those plays happen, it’s instinctual. It’s not unnatural.”
When Sheridan was named defensive coordinator in the spring, he took a hard look at the number of takeaways the Eagles generated in 2018; they were 11th in the nation and second in the ACC with 26 takeaways.
“In looking at our performance last year, at what it takes to win a lot of major college football games, he wanted to emphasize turnovers and takeaways,” Richardson said.
The Eagles forced the second-fewest turnovers in the ACC in 2012, the first year Steve Addazio served as head coach. But every year since 2016 the Eagles have been among the top two teams in the conference at taking the ball away.
“We’re tracking takeaways for that reason,” Addazio said. “They’re game-changers. You’ve got to win the turnover battle. It just has to happen. It’s critical.”
Addazio said he believes creating turnovers gives the Eagles the ability to compete with some of the ACC’s elite.
“We’ve had a huge focus on getting the ball out and creating turnovers,” Addazio said. “I think I told you this before. We’re big into the daily double. The daily double is you want to win the explosiveness battle and the turnover battle. If you can put those two things together, call it the daily double, you’ve got like an 85, 90 percent chance of winning the game.”
Are there any prizes for their hawking? The ball is reward enough.
“Defense, you don’t get your hands on the ball that much,” Richardson said. “But the game of football is about the ball. If you’re playing defense, you want to get the ball back.”