Football, by its nature, is an aggressive sport. But what’s a coach to do when his team is too aggressive?
That’s the situation Paul Tortorella finds himself in this week as his IUP Crimson Hawks prepare to play Millersville on Saturday.
Four days ago, the Crimson Hawks opened their season by topping New Haven, 24-13. On the surface, that win might not look too impressive. But considering the Chargers are the odds-on favorite to win the Northeast-10 Conference, and that IUP made a few significant mental errors, it’s pretty impressive that the Crimson Hawks didn’t let those mistakes ruin their day.
“We had a lot happen in the first game,” Tortorella said. “We overcame some things that are usually hard to overcome.”
The Crimson Hawks turned the ball over four times. They were penalized only six times, but for 111 yards. One of those penalties wiped out an interception return for a touchdown, and another brought back a 40-yard punt return that could have led to a touchdown.
But the good news is that the mistakes are more of the opening-night jitters variety than reasons to panic.
“They’re all correctable, yeah,” Tortorella said. “Our mistakes were not issues of talent. I think we were just a little overaggressive on defense and a little overaggressive on offense.”
Quinton Maxwell made a couple bad throws, one of which was intercepted when he tried to force a ball into tight coverage. But Tortorella has no issues with his new quarterback because Maxwell was trying to make something happen with his talent, not just throwing the ball to get rid of it.
True freshman strong safety Zayyan Cobb got penalized for pass interference on a play in which he was so in tune with trying to blanket the receiver that he didn’t turn around to see the ball, resulting in the flag.
Defensive end Dondrea Tillman was the guilty party for an illegal block after Nazir Streater intercepted a pass, wiping away what would have been a touchdown in the first half. But it’s a play that a recent rule change made illegal, one that years ago would have been celebrated as a big hit.
“Sometimes you’ve got to pull off,” Tortorella said, “but it’s easier to say “whoa’ than it is to say ‘sic ’em,’ as they say.”
So to correct these mistakes, the IUP coaching staff hasn’t been browbeating the players or anything like that. Instead, they coaches are having simple conversations about understanding the situation. Sometimes it’s better to throw the ball away or to not make a big hit behind a play.
“There’s nothing there that’s glaring,” Tortorella said.
The turnovers are somewhat alarming, though, just for the fact that in most cases, turning the ball over a lot is usually a bad thing: Since 1990, IUP is 17-30 when it turns the ball over four or more times in a game.
But because two of the interceptions came on tipped passes, and the one fumble came when Justice Evans got hit while making a spin move to elude a tackler, it’s hard to fault the players for the end result.
“In a weird way,” Tortorella said, “it’s kind of good how everything transpired. I think the best value we can get out of that game is to just play the next play. What’s done is done. You’ve just got to worry about the next play and not 10 plays from now or 10 plays ago.”
IUP’s reward for the win was a reappearance in the American Football Coaches Association Division II Top 25 poll. The Crimson Hawks were unranked going into the opener, but moved into the 24th spot Monday after beating New Haven.
INJURY UPDATE: The status for Saturday of strong safety Shaq Jones, who left the game on the second play from scrimmage with an apparent concussion, is uncertain, and probably will be until game time.
Jones was to have testing done Tuesday, and if he is cleared, he could return to practice later this week. Tortorella said Jones had not had any symptoms since Saturday, so there’s reason to believe he could play against Millersville. If Jones isn’t cleared, Cobb, the true freshman, is likely to take his spot.
Also, offensive lineman Colin McAllister has an ankle injury that has the coaching staff somewhat concerned.
“He’s probably the one that we’re watching more than the others,” Tortorella said.
If McAllister can’t go, John Robinson is likely to draw the start.
Tillman left the game with severe cramping and isn’t expected to miss any time, although Tortorella said, “He can’t just keep being 75 percent. We’ve got to get him to 100 percent.”