It’s difficult to find a silver lining when your team is 0-3, but here it is: We’re competitive, and there are signs that we are better than recent Missouri State teams, notably the 2019 squad, which went 1-10.
That said, we’ve got to stop beating ourselves.
Turnovers have just killed us, particularly in our back-to-back losses to Central Arkansas. We had four in a 27-20 loss on Sept. 26, and six in a 33-24 defeat on Oct. 17. UCA returned a fumble for a touchdown in the first game, and an interception for a score in the second.
Turnovers led to 23 other Central Arkansas points in those games. UCA also returned a punt for a TD in the first game.
In all we have coughed the ball up 11 times in our three games, while taking it away three times. That minus-8 ratio is the worst among the 16 FCS teams that have taken the field to date.
So as we look ahead to the bulk of our season — the eight-game Missouri Valley Conference schedule, which begins Feb. 20 at North Dakota — we simply have to clean that up. It’s the reason we frittered away a 17-7 halftime lead in the first meeting with UCA, and a 14-3 second-quarter lead in the second.
It might be said that if possession is nine-tenths of the law in legal circles, it is ten-tenths in football. Every coach knows it, and harps on it. Two years ago, in fact, ESPN.com writer David Hale wrote about Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson beginning the first preseason address to his team with the following: “That ball represents the whole program. Everything is about possession of that ball.”
Apparently his players heeded his words. The perennially downtrodden Demon Deacons went 7-6 that fall, the third of four straight winning seasons under Clawson (with another pending this year), and won the Birmingham Bowl.
A website called Footballstudyhall.com calculated in 2014 that a team winning the turnover battle wins the game 73 percent of the time, and that few things are bigger indicators of success.
The thing is, turnovers can be entirely random — just a bounce of the ball, here or there. There’s also a chicken-or-egg factor involved with them: Does a team succeed because it forces turnovers, or does their success lead to more of them? It stands to reason that the trailing team will take more risks, and thus cough the ball up more often.
There are, however, some things that can be controlled. You can do ball-security drills in practice. You can use film study to help your quarterbacks make better reads. In our case, we have to get our young QB, Jaden Johnson, squared away. In his first collegiate season he has thrown four interceptions and lost three fumbles.
With experience, we believe he will be better. We also believe that the team as a whole will get better over time, because we have a lot going for us. Our defense has for the most part played well, with cornerback Jeremy Webb a particular standout. And we have had our moments on offense; running back Jeremiah Wilson, who has twice suffered season-ending knee injuries in college, made his 2020 debut in the second UCA game and ran for exactly 100 yards.
It’s just that we have too often been our own worst enemies. And that’s got to stop.