Turnovers Told Tale For Each Side

The Ohio State jersey scrimmages often turn on turnovers, and Saturday's was no different. After a game that saw zero changes of possession, the Buckeye offensive players were smiling and the defenders were left frustrated.

To be honest, the spring jersey scrimmage held Saturday morning in Ohio Stadium wasn't much of a contest because of one simple stat: turnovers.

The Buckeye defense could not force the offense to cough up the ball a single time, and because of that, Antonio Henton's touchdown pass to walk-on Ricky Crawford of nearby Lewis Center that made the score 26-18 signaled the beginning of the end for the defense. The final was 55-44 in favor of the offense, which retained the scarlet shirts.

Of course, intrasquad scrimmages are always glass half full, glass half empty occasions. One man's trash – defensive players afterward lamented the inability of the Silver Bullets to force a turnover – is another man's treasure – except for head coach Jim Tressel, who found himself as the man on each side afterwards.

"The offense is going to typically win that scrimmage if there aren't any turnovers," he said. "Same deal with a game. The team that doesn't make the turnovers is probably going to win the game and the team that doesn't get any takeaways probably won't."

Tressel's statement was borne of reality in 2007. The Buckeyes two losses saw them lose the turnover battle in each, as Illinois grabbed three interceptions to OSU's zero forced turnovers and LSU in the national title game nabbed a fumble and two picks compared to a Buckeye squad that grabbed just a lone interception.

As much as the head coach known for field position and special teams preaches holding onto the ball and forcing turnovers, Ohio State found itself minus-three in turnover margin in 2007. Neither side was particularly satisfied with their performance.

On the defensive side, the result has been that the coaches have stressed ball hawking during the spring. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said OSU's goal is to get into the 20s or even 30s when it comes to turnovers forced. Since the 2002 team had 30, the Buckeyes have fallen off a bit, forcing just 19 turnovers in 2004 and 12 in '05 before a mini-rebound in '06 when they grabbed 27.

"That's been all of the focus," Jenkins said. "That's been the emphasis for the spring: getting turnovers, stripping the ball, catching every interception that comes your way. We just have to continue to improve on it."

That much was shown by the defense's deficit during Saturday's contest. Jenkins admitted that the defensive squad knows it must force turnovers in order to have a chance to emerge triumphant, a fact that added to the disappointment after the 125 plays.

"There weren't really many chances for us to get interceptions but we could have gone after the ball, stripping it a little bit more," Jenkins said.

Jenkins nearly did grab one, as Brandon Saine had appeared to fumble after earning a first down on a short-yardage run. However, the referees ruled that Saine was down on the play before coughing up the ball that ended up in Jenkins' hands. The defense did force another fumble on a carry by Bo DeLande, but quarterback Antonio Henton fell on the ball before the defense could find it.

In the air, quarterbacks Todd Boeckman, Joe Bauserman and Henton rarely put the ball in trouble situations. One pass by Boeckman was batted high into the air by defensive end Cameron Heyward, but it fluttered to the turf without incident.

Turnovers were a bit of a bugaboo for the Buckeye offense in 2007. The team lost just four fumbles in the final 11 games of the season but Boeckman threw eight picks in the final six games and six in the final three.

Days after telling reporters that he wished he could have back all 14 interceptions he threw during his first year as a starter, Boeckman was proud of the offense's work Saturday.

"The coaches were telling us the key to this game today is no turnovers, and that's one thing we didn't do," he said. "Once you score a few touchdowns and have no turnovers, you're going to win the game."

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