On the surface, it looked like Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was ripe to make some mistakes on Saturday against Penn State at Beaver Stadium. The inexperienced sophomore quarterback threw two interceptions against Kent State in Week One and was going up against a veteran Nittany Lion secondary focused on making more big plays in 2011.
McCarron flipped the script, however, avoiding interceptions and making good passes at the right times while his backs kept a firm grip on the football, allowing Alabama to win the turnover battle, and eventually, the game by a final score of 27-11.
A turnover-free day is not what the Lions had in mind after forcing three against Indiana State in the home opener on Sept. 3. Many have talked about the importance of generating more turnovers this year since the offseason, and Saturday, they simply weren't able to follow through.
After the game, safety Drew Astorino credited Alabama.
"The did a good job of securing the ball," Astorino said. "Sometimes, the opponent does just a good job of of not even giving you a chance to make turnovers, and I think that's what [Alabama] did today."
Astorino led the turnover parade for Penn State against Indiana State, picking off quarterback Ronnie Fouch in the first quarter of that contest while also deflecting a couple of passes later on. Against the Tide, though, Astorino had a hard time getting his hand of the football at all, not only missing out on an interception, but failing to deflect any passes.
Meanwhile, teammate Gerald Hodges had some near-misses.
With Alabama facing a critical third-and-three on Penn State's five during its second offensive drive of the game and Penn State leading 3-0, McCarron dropped back to pass and fired toward receiver Michael Williams in the end zone. Hodges dove and nearly tipped the ball, but came up just short. Williams pulled in the pass for a touchdown, giving the Tide a lead it would not relinquish.
Not surprisingly, Hodges was disappointed with his inability to finish the play.
"I was so close, man," Hodges said after the game,"I think I should have broken on it a little quicker, but I mean, it happens. It didn't got through my hands, I think I just missed it."
The play was symbolic of a general lack of big plays at big moments for the Penn State defense. Whether it was failing to stop Alabama's fake punt in the first quarter or just missing opportunities to pick off balls batted at the line of scrimmage, Penn State just couldn't seem to finish.
That, of course, is a theme from last season, when the Lions forced just 17 turnovers year on route to a 7-6 finish. Though the defense was able to force stops, it rarely made the game-changing plays in the turnover battles that can go a long way in determining the winner.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley knows that's a trend that has to turn around if Penn State is going to contend in Big Ten play. Check out some of his post game comments below, where he talks a lot about turnovers.
As Penn State gets ready to take on Temple this week, keep an eye out for improvement in the turnover department. If the Lions get better there, it'll be a step toward becoming the defense they want to be.