Column: Fumbles Proving Costly for Penn State

Story posted November 22, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Brendan May

The culture of big time college athletics is so cutthroat that any advantage a head coach can attain, whether legal or illegal, is almost always exploited. This is the driving motivation behind many of the problems in college football.

With all this being said, imagine what college football coaches would do for a guaranteed 57% winning percentage at worst every game. This can be achieved by following one of the most basic rules of football: hold onto the ball at all costs. Of the 585 games a team has avoided a lost fumble, that team has won 338 of them. That's good for a 57% winning percentage.

Penn State seems to have forgotten the instructions of their Pop Warner coaches. The Nittany Lions have coughed up the ball in nine of their 10 games this season. I would contend that costly fumbles have been the main reason for the team's disappointing season so far.

Some would argue that fumbles happen and that it's difficult to put the blame on anyone for fumbling, but I think this is simply untrue. Holding on the ball is a skill, and unfortunately, it seems to be a skill that many Penn State skill position players simply don't have.

Take Zach Zwinak, for example. A few weeks ago, at his post-game news conference, head coach Bill O'Brien, pointed out that the coaching staff looks very closely at the way ball carriers hold the pigskin. In regards to Zwinak in particular, the coach said that two things specifically stood out to him. First, Zwinak carried the ball with his left arm too much, presumably because the RB preferred stiff-arming with his more dominant right hand. Well, some running backs may be able to get away with this, but it's clear that Zwinak needs all the help he can get, ball-security-wise. Zwinak has fumbled the ball four times this season, part of the reason for his skydive down the Lion's depth chart.

O'Brien's second set of advice for the senior running back is one that much of the PSU faithful has been calling for all year. Zwinak hadn't worn gloves all season long. O'Brien has been extolled by some much of 2013, but an oversight like this shouldn't have taken so long to correct. What's worse is that it wasn't even the coaches coming to Zwinak. Apparently, the running back himself was the one to initiate the meeting, when he told the coaches that he felt more comfortable wearing gloves.

If O'Brien is going to get as visibly and publicly upset about the fumble issues like he has all season long, then maybe he should pursue solutions instead of just yelling at the players to get their act together. As bad as the fumbling has been, I hesitate to blame the players entirely if the coaches can't get their acts together enough to fix a mistake like Zwinak's, that even fans having been screaming about.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)