FRISCO, Texas (STATS) – The Miami Hurricanes made the turnover chain famous. Kennesaw State popularized the turnover plank.
The members of James Madison’s secondary made their pitch for having a reward each time they forced a turnover this season.
There could have been the turnover crown. Maybe the turnover shoulder pads. Even the turnover stick or the turnover cape.
Squash those ideas. The Dukes’ 63-year-old defensive coordinator Bob Trott – “a little old-fashioned,” strong safety Jordan Brown says diplomatically – wasn’t going to accept any of them.
“We celebrate with each other,” junior cornerback Rashad Robinson said, “but our reward is getting the offense back on the field to score.”
The offense obliges, too. One of the big reasons James Madison (14-0) is back to defend last year’s national championship Saturday against North Dakota State (13-1) is its opportunistic secondary. The Dukes lead all NCAA levels with 43 takeaways, including the 34 forced by starters Robinson and Jimmy Moreland at cornerback, safeties Brown and Ravel Greene, and nickel back Curtis Oliver.
With a plus-24 turnover margin, the Dukes have scored an astounding 245 points off takeaways.
“Our secondary, we have a lot of talent back there, a lot of athletic guys,” All-America offensive tackle Aaron Stinnie said. “I like to say we have the best secondary in the nation the way they go out there and play. They’re ball hawks and they get after it and they fly around to the ball.”
The Dukes’ performance in a 51-16 win over South Dakota State in the national semifinals punctuated their defensive dominance. They tied a playoff record in forcing 10 turnovers, with Brown and Moreland totaling three each. It boosted them both to 10 this season, with Robinson (seven) and Greene (six) ranking third and fourth on the team.
“We just feed off each other’s energy,” Moreland said. “Once one gets a pick, another one wants a pick.”
The five main defensive backs are seniors and juniors, and their fundamentally sound play has been helped by the stability of Trott, whose 4-3 scheme has fit well after James Madison had gone through different defensive coordinators before coach Mike Houston’s arrival two years ago.
Moreland and Oliver keep the group loose, and there are plenty of nicknames to go around – not all fit for print. “When you think about it, they’re all like brothers,” All-America defensive end Andrew Ankrah said.
“We wanted to just kind of do our own thing and see how many we could actually get,” Brown said, “and it turned out we had the most out of all of them, which is nice to hear.”