UNIVERSITY PARK - When Bill O'Brien was asked Tuesday if winning the turnover battle was something his team could keep up, the Penn State coach grinned and superstitiously knocked on the blue wooden podium.
In the season opener against Ohio, the Nittany Lions turned the ball over three times and failed to force a takeaway. Since then, however, Penn State has forced a total of eight turnovers while not giving the ball up to the opposition.
"If you don't turn the ball over and the other team turns the ball over, you have a better chance to win," O'Brien said "Although we proved that theory wrong in the Virginia game, hopefully that theory holds true most the time."
Defensive Tackle DaQuan Jones said seeing the offense take over Saturday's game with two touchdowns off turnovers gave the team a major boost. He added that the energy has carried over into practice this week.
Against Virginia, the Nittany Lions were unable to convert any of their four turnovers into points.
A number of defensive players said Wednesday that the coaching staff has been emphasizing the importance of forcing turnovers and stressing for the team to strip the ballcarrier as much as possible.
Jones said that before each game the defensive unit makes goals that include how many turnovers it hopes to cause.
Linebacker Mike Hull pointed out that during Tuesday and Wednesday practices, the coaches want the defense trying to strip the ballcarrier and getting a hand in the receivers' faces on every play.
"Whenever you're emphasizing coming in and stripping after making a tackle or trying to get two hands up to intercept the ball instead of batting it down, it makes a big difference when Saturday comes around," Hull said.
No regrets for Hull
When the NCAA sanctions were levied on Penn State late this summer, Hull was one of the Lions who considered transferring, in his case to Pitt.
"It was a tough decision. I was probably 50-50 the whole time," Hull said. "Ultimately, I'm a Penn State guy. Once I made my decision there's no looking back."
Although all Penn State players will again be able to transfer without penalty after the season, Hull said he is happy with his decision to stay and will not be looking to leave.
"I chose to stay, and I'm not looking back," he said. "There's really no point in leaving now. I'm going to get my shot as a starter next year, hopefully, and I'll try to make the most of it."
Hull has had a productive season thus far, highlighted by his 74-yard scoop and score touchdown Saturday against Navy. He has recorded 13 tackles, ranking ninth on the team, and in addition to filling in at linebacker, he has been a strong special teams player.
Hull said he knows his chance to start on defense eventually will come. Currently he is behind starters Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges but has been in the linebacker rotation and is able to spell any of the starters. Hull has played the strong side and middle linebacker this season.
"There was a lot of good linebackers in front of me when I came in, and there still are a lot of good linebackers in front of me," Hull said. "I'm excited to get out on the field more, and every chance I get I have to make the most of my opportunity."
Bill Belton, who missed the Navy game with an ankle injury, was not on the field during the portion of Wednesday's practice that was open to the media. Derek Day, who also missed last week's game with a shoulder injury, was in pads.
Left tackle Donovan Smith, who sat out against Navy with an ankle injury, also was not seen at practice.