Tim Fugger didn’t even know he had punched the ball loose.
Forcing fumbles has become so routine for the Vanderbilt defensive end that he doesn’t realize he is doing it.
That was the case on Saturday night when Fugger caught Eastern Michigan running back Javonti Green from behind and popped the football loose. Defensive back Jamie Graham jumped on it and gave the Commodores possession during a 24-point second quarter in a 52-6 blowout victory.
“I think I just kind of got lucky trying to wrap him up and ended up punching the ball out,” Fugger said. “I had know idea I did it until someone came over and started congratulating me.”
In five games this year, Fugger has four forced fumbles, which is best in the Southeastern Conference.
The redshirt-junior had forced just one fumble in his career prior to this season. But Fugger said during individual drills this season, the defensive unit has been putting more of a emphasis on creating turnovers – anyway they can.
“We have worked a lot more at ripping and punching at the ball at the end of the drills and just trying to finish tackles,” Fugger said. “I think that has been very beneficial to all of us really, just trying to get opportunities and turnovers.”
Safety Jay Fullam has forced two fumbles, and Vanderbilt has a total of 10 forced fumbles. It is part of the reason that the Commodores have a plus-two turnover margin, which is tied with Georgia (their opponent this Saturday) for the third-best mark in the conference.
While the team has excelled at the art form that is forcing fumbles, Fugger has really developed a knack for jarring the pigskin out of opponents’ hands.
“He has a great desire,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “He can run and he is just relentless chasing the ball. Most of them have come from him chasing from behind. That is what we are trying to do: swarm the football and get everybody there. I’m very proud of Tim and his efforts in chasing it.”
After two years at the college level, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Fugger said he is starting to pick up on the little things. That alone, he said, has made a big difference in his growth as a player.
“I think I am learning more through experience,” Fugger said. “I am seeing plays develop slower and I’m running the defense a lot better. So I think just seeing that I am able to focus a lot more on specifics, such as forcing fumbles.”
But when the Oak Brook, Ill. native doesn’t cause fumbles, he makes his presence known elsewhere. Fugger has 11 tackles this year, including 2.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high 1.5 sacks.
“Tim just gets after it,” defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “He is a go-hard guy. He never gives up. He will just keep going no matter what. He always goes for that ball.”
Often he hits it too and knocks it free. Occasionally he even realizes that.