KU football forcing turnovers at historically low rate


In a blog before the college football season, I said the easiest way for new Kansas coach Turner Gill to get the Jayhawks to six wins and a bowl game this season would be to increase his team's turnovers forced. We've ended up learning something different this year: The easiest way for the Jayhawks to not come close to bowl eligibility is by posting one of the worst turnover margins in Big 12 history.

Heading into Saturday's game against Missouri, KU has forced just 10 turnovers. If that number stands, it will be the second-fewest turnovers in the 15-year history of the Big 12.

Here are the teams with the fewest turnovers in the Big 12 during the last 15 years.

2010: Kansas — 10#
2009: Kansas — 17
2008: Texas — 16
2007: Nebraska — 11
2006: Iowa State — 15
2005: Oklahoma State — 20##
2004: Baylor — 9
2003: Four teams tied — 19
2002: Kansas 17
2001: Missouri — 15
2000: Nebraska — 19
1999: Baylor — 11
1998: Iowa State — 16
1997: Oklahoma — 13
1996: Missouri — 13

# — KU still has one game remaining in 2010.

## — Before 2005, college football teams played 11-game schedules instead of the current 12-game format.

Ever since he arrived at KU, Gill has put extra emphasis on creating turnovers. In fact, here's Gill's quote from before the season about takeaways.

“We’re going to emphasize protecting the ball with ball security and then take away the ball defensively," Gill said. "That’s what I believe in doing, and I’m firm believer that you get what you practice and you get what you emphasize.”

The Jayhawks work on creating turnovers every day in practice. According to linebacker Steven Johnson, KU's players go through a turnover circuit, rotating through four different drills focused on taking the ball away from the offense.

If that's the case, why are the Jayhawks on a near-record-low pace?

Pictured from left, Kansas defensive players, Richard Johnson, Steven Johnson, Olaitan Oguntodu and Tyler Patmon sit together on the bench late in the fourth quarter of the Jayhawks' 48-14 loss to Oklahoma State, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010 at Kivisto Field.

Pictured from left, Kansas defensive players, Richard Johnson, Steven Johnson, Olaitan Oguntodu and Tyler Patmon sit together on the bench late in the fourth quarter of the Jayhawks' 48-14 loss to Oklahoma State, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010 at Kivisto Field. by Nick Krug

KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said part of it is that KU has missed some opportunities. The Jayhawks have dropped some interceptions and also haven't fallen on some forced fumbles (KU has forced 13 fumbles, but has recovered only five).

Torbush still admitted that the lack of forced turnovers was "very disappointing."

"We work on it very hard. But again, it’s like we tell our players, if you don’t take what you learn in practice and relate it over to a ballgame, then it really doesn’t matter," Torbush said. "It’s just like studying for a final exam. You can study all the hours you want, but if you flunk that final, you still flunk it.

"We can practice all we want, create situations in practice, but unless we get it done in a game, it really doesn’t matter. We’ve got to do a better job of making some things happen."

This year, KU has six fewer turnovers forced than the next-lowest Big 12 team (Texas) and has barely a third of the turnovers forced as league leader Oklahoma State (27).

When I brought up that KU could end up second-worst in the category in Big 12 history at Tuesday's press conference, I received some interesting reactions from KU players and coaches.

"I feel like it just throws a little more coal into my fire," Steven Johnson said.

Added safety Phillip Strozier: "It is pretty surprising. It’s pretty mind-blowing, actually."

And the always honest Torbush: "Wow. I didn’t know that. I kind of wish you hadn’t told me that."

So where should KU go from here?

In the offseason blog, I wondered aloud whether turnovers could be taught. Gill's previous turnover numbers at Buffalo didn't appear to indicate that his "teaching" of turnovers provided a consistent boost for the Bulls.

Then, in another podcast with college football statistical analyst Bill Connelly, he talked about how his research indicated that two factors that are usually not easily repeatable year to year by teams are fumbles and interceptions.

One only needs to look at Texas as proof. After creating 37 turnovers last year and returning many of the same defensive playmakers this year, the Longhorns have forced just 16 takeaways so far.

So the question is this: Are the Jayhawks using up too much practice time each day working on something that could be more about luck than skill?

It's actually a question that most college football teams probably should ask themselves.

"For as much as we work on creating takeaways, obviously we haven’t done as good a job this year as we need to," Torbush said. "That’s something that we’ll have to address in the offseason to make sure we do a better job next year."


Layne Pierce 7 years, 6 months ago

I would also like to point out that an aggressive defensive line that puts pressure on the other teams offense also contributes to causing turnovers. Our defensive line is so pathetic that there is very little pressure on the other team, especially our defensive tackles. This is an area we must improve in to be truly competitive. Juco, development, new people, rotate people in and out more often, something has to be done.

Cal Bender 7 years, 6 months ago

Good analysis, Newell. Simply being a good quarterback, especially one not good enough to play in the NFL, does not a good coach make. The players Gill recruited and coached at Buffalo are now 2 and 9. Now, after ony two years, Brady Hoke, Chuck Long's replacement at SDSU is 7 and 4, and is being wooed by Minnesota, and probably others. I live on the west coast and haven't had the opportunity to watch much of this Kansas season on TV, but what I've seen demonstrates that Gill is way out of his league in the Big XII. Why, with the record he had at Buffalo, he was hired at Kansas, I guess only Perkins can explain. If we win over MU Saturday, or even stay within 10 points, I could possibly see giving Gill another year. Otherwise, for the sake of the school, he and all his staff should be dismissed. He continues to talk about how great his staff is because they coached two Heisman trophy winners. That's really reaching for justification. What part did any of his staff play in developing them. I'm embarrassed. Gill is another Chuck Mather and Terry Allen mistake. If we don't beat or stay within 10 points of MU, this mistake must be corrected before next season.

Carolyn Troupe 7 years, 6 months ago

maybe I'm wrong, but did he actually say they were great because they coached Heisman winners, or are others suggesting that they should be great or might think they are great because they had those players on their rosters. I'm inclined toward the latter .

Dan Harris 7 years, 6 months ago

Our defensive coordinator didn't know how many turnovers we had? really? No wonder we have a problem!

bad_dog 7 years, 6 months ago

Dan, the quote was: "When I brought up that KU could end up second-worst in the category in Big 12 history at Tuesday's press conference..."

So Torbush didn't realize the historic implications of the low number relative to the Big XII, not that KU only had 10 turnovers so far this year. That's how I read it anyway.

Let's see if we can't increase that number by 3-4 Saturday. We're due for a few. If we can win the turnover margin by at least two, I believe we can win this game. BTW, I'd love to see a couple of turnovers knocked out of a certain receiver named Moe. Knock the he!! out of any Mizzery "Stooges" named Larry and Curly too...

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