“We talk about it ad nauseum,” Thacker said.
Another reason it’s important – with Tech’s offense slowly coming together, the unit will accept all the short fields it can take. But without turnovers, or much help from the kickoff- and punt-return units, Tech’s offense has had consistently poor field position in recent weeks.
In the past four games – Temple, North Carolina, Duke and Miami – the Jackets have started a total of four regulation drives beyond their own 35-yard line.
Tech’s inability to get turnovers by forced fumble is particularly galling to Thacker. At Temple last season – Thacker’s first season as a defensive coordinator – the Owls tied for 10th nationally with 16 forced fumbles. Temple tied for 19th in 2017 with 14. Coach Geoff Collins has said proudly that creating turnovers is “part of our DNA.”
Forced fumbles are often the product of multiple defenders rallying to the ball, the sort of effort-filled play that Thacker and Collins preach. Knight’s forced fumble also exemplified Collins’ aggressive style, as the Jackets loaded up a six-man blitz with Miami facing a third-and-long inside its own red zone.
But Tech has had trouble generating pass-rush pressure, meaning that both opportunities for forced fumbles and interceptions are diminished. Tech hasn’t had much success lately with interceptions, either, with none in the opposition’s past 98 pass attempts.
Thacker isn’t merely emphasizing it with clever incentives. There are drills dedicated to it. Players are shown game and practice video to study techniques and scenarios in which takeaways are created.
“It’s willing those things to happen by having techniques to be able to get the ball out,” he said.
Three takeaways is an objective with some punch. Dating to 2015, ACC teams that recorded three or more takeaways are 143-38, according to sports-reference.com.
“We gave ourselves a chance (against Miami) because we started fast and created a takeaway early in the game,” Thacker said. “We have to get more.”
Tech’s opponent Saturday will undoubtedly be wary. Pitt lost to Miami on Saturday with three giveaways. Two weeks before that, the Panthers committed four turnovers against Duke, which committed six.