Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan emphasizing turnover prevention against Wisconsin
ARLINGTON, Texas — P.J. Fleck, who is 36 years old and has been a head football coach for four seasons, probably has 1,000 slogans in his playbook.
One that likely will be relevant when No. 14 Western Michigan (13-0) faces No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl on Monday at AT&T Stadium is this:
"The ball is the program."
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Western Michigan, which finished minus-16 in turnover margin in Fleck's first season, enters the Cotton Bowl No. 2 nationally in turnover margin at plus-19.
The Broncos have forced 26 turnovers (15 interceptions and 11 fumbles) and have lost the ball just seven times (four fumbles and three interceptions).
They didn't suffer their first turnover until the seventh game of the season.
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"A lot of it has to do with maturity," redshirt senior quarterback Zach Terrell, who has 45 starts and 48 games played, said Tuesday. "This isn't a new slogan or something we've just brought about. This is something Coach Fleck had from the beginning.
"We have a lot of guys at key positions who have played a lot of football. We've failed a lot. I can remember back to my redshirt freshman year. I turned the ball over a lot and we were minus-16.
"And this year we have a lot of older guys and that has really resonated with us. That has been a key part in turning it around and why we take the ball so seriously. We do it every day in practice.
"We never overlook the ball and the importance of it."
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UW is tied for ninth nationally in turnover margin at plus-11. UW has forced 27 turnovers, including 21 interceptions.
Terrell has thrown 30 interceptions in four seasons and 892 attempts. He has completed 70.8 percent of his attempts this season (247-of-349) for 3,376 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"You have to take care of the football to win in this game," Fleck said. "Have to. If you don't, you're going to lose a lot of games."
Terrell impressed by Watt: Terrell expects to see outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who leads UW in sacks with 10.5 and tackles for loss with 14.5, in the backfield when the teams meet next week.
"He gets after it," Terrell said. "It looks like he just loves to play football. He loves to hit. He hits everything in sight.
"I know we're probably going to get a few face-to-face meetings and I look forward to that."
This article is written by Jeff Potrykus from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.