To say it’s been a historic start to the 2016 season for P.J. Fleck and his Western Michigan team would be a significant understatement.
WMU has gotten out of the gate at 6-0 this year, it’s best start to a season since winning six straight in 1941. Just this past week, the Broncos came in at No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, which marked the program’s first poll appearance in its 111-year history. Another first? They’ve beaten two Big Ten teams in the same season, and did that in the first three weeks of the year for good measure.
One of the reasons for such an epic start? Turnovers, or lack thereof. Through the first six weeks of the 2016 season, the Broncos have yet to commit a turnover, making WMU the lone remaining FBS team that can make such a claim. They’ve not thrown a pick in 144 pass attempts, and have recovered all seven of their own fumbles.
They are also the first team in at least 20 years without a lost fumble or thrown interception through the first six weeks of a season.
And, as it turns out, the turnover-free zone in Kalamazoo is no accident. In fact, it’s part of a concerted effort on the part of Fleck and his coaching staff to stress the importance of maintaining control of the football. From the Associated Press:
Rather than hanging a board in the locker room displaying the Mid-American Conference standings, Fleck allows only a chart that runs down MAC teams’ turnover margins. On their way from the locker room to the practice field, players tap a sign in all capital letters reading — what else? — “THE BALL IS THE PROGRAM.”
And every practice, with no exception, includes a 15-minute period for ball security and ball disruption drills. Wet footballs are used every Thursday and frozen balls come out occasionally as the weather turns colder.
Fleck and his staff came up with a rotation of 12 drills that address almost any situation a turnover or takeaway could occur.
“We teach everything here in incredible detail,” he said.
For the record, that MAC turnover margin currently shows WMU at the top of the conference — and second nationally (Washington, plus-13) — at plus-11. The next closest in the league is Ohio at plus-10 (16 turnovers gained, six turnovers lost). Kent State (plus-three) and Central Michigan (plus-one) are the only other MAC school with a positive turnover margin in 2016.
And, now that WMU has been jinxed, they’ll be looking to continue you their impressive turnover-free streak later on today on the road against Akron.