The easiest way for KU football to get back to a bowl in 2010


At a Kansas football practice earlier this month, I noticed that every position group was working on a drill that related to turnovers.

Defensive tackles were working on falling on fumbles. Defensive ends worked on stripping the ball on an outside rush. The cornerbacks attempted to strip the ball away from a ball-carrier when double-teaming on a tackle. And so on.

On the other end, KU’s offensive players were working on turnover prevention. The running backs and wide receivers tried to secure the ball while two defenders worked on stripping it away. The tight ends held on to the football after getting banged with pads.

I had never remembered seeing so much work specifically on turnovers during any college football practices I’d seen. So I asked KU coach Turner Gill if he had any specific goals in mind when it came to turnovers.

“I think we’re probably like most people. Averaging one per game (on offense). That’s counting on us playing 14 games,” Gill said. “Hopefully, we have 14 turnovers from an offensive standpoint. Defensively, hopefully you get into the 30 range — 30-plus turnovers in a season. Then you’re playing some outstanding defense.”

There’s a lot to talk about here. How did the Jayhawks fare with turnovers last year? How do teams fare when they only turn it over 14 times or less in a season? How do teams fare when they force 30 or more turnovers per year? How do teams fare when both of these instances occur together? Can forcing/preventing turnovers be taught? I dug into some of the numbers to see what we should expect from the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks regarding turnovers.

KU and turnovers

Let’s start by looking at the Jayhawks’ turnover numbers from last year.

In 2009, KU forced 17 turnovers and lost 22 for a negative-5 turnover margin. The Jayhawks’ 17 turnovers forced were the lowest in the Big 12. KU also mustered just seven interceptions, which ranked 110th out of 120 Division-I teams.

Let’s take a look at KU’s turnover numbers compared to other Big 12 teams.

Texas (+9) — 13-1 record
Kansas State (+7) — 6-6
Nebraska (+5) — 10-4
Oklahoma (+4) — 8-5
Missouri (+4) — 8-5
Iowa State (+4) — 7-6
Oklahoma State (0) — 9-4
Texas A&M (-2) — 6-7
Kansas (-5) — 5-7
Baylor (-5) — 4-8
Texas Tech (-6) — 9-4
Colorado (-6) —3-9

In case you were wondering, the Big 12 teams that had a positive turnover margin or a turnover margin of zero posted a combined record of 61-31 (.663). The Big 12 teams with a negative turnover margin combined to go 27-35 (.435).

Obviously, better teams have better players who will force more turnovers on defense and limit turnovers on offense, so we can’t say turnovers “caused” teams to be good or bad. Still, I think the numbers show that turnovers are an important statistic to consider when trying to predict the future record of a team.

The 30-14 rule

I appreciated Gill’s honesty when he talked about wanting to force 30 or more turnovers in a season while keeping his team’s own turnovers to 14 or fewer.

Make no mistake: Both of those are lofty goals in and of themselves.

Let’s take a look at the teams that forced 30 or more turnovers last year.

Ohio 37 (9-5 record)
Texas 37 (13-1)
Boise State 35 (14-0)
Ohio State 35 (11-2)
Air Force 34 (8-5)
East Carolina 34 (9-5)
Rutgers 34 (9-4)
Middle Tennessee State 33 (10-3)
Iowa State 32 (7-6)
Alabama 31 (14-0)
Arkansas 30 (8-5)
Clemson 30 (9-5)
Houston 30 (10-4)
Iowa 30 (11-2)
Northwestern 30 (8-5)
Oklahoma 30 (8-5)
Oklahoma State 30 (9-4)
UCLA 30 (7-6)

In all, 18 teams forced 30 or more turnovers last season. All of them had winning records.* Those teams combined to go 174-67 (.722). Also note that the two teams in last year’s BCS Championship Game (Texas and Alabama) made this list.

* — It’s important to note that every team above played in at least 13 games, making it easier to get to the 30-forced-turnover plateau. Still, I chose to use turnovers forced instead of turnovers forced per game to stay in line with Gill’s stated goal of 30 turnovers or more in a season.

Let’s take a look at those teams that turned it over 14 times or less in 2009.

Cincinnati 10 (12-1 record)
Oregon State 11 (8-5)
Air Force 12 (8-5)
Alabama 12 (14-0)
Louisiana Tech 13 (4-8)
UAB 13 (5-7)
Boise State 14 (14-0)
LSU 14 (9-4)
Navy 14 (10-4)
Notre Dame 14 (6-6)
Pittsburgh 14 (10-3)
Rutgers 14 (9-4)
Wyoming 14 (7-6)

These 13 teams combined to go 116-53 (.686). Louisiana Tech and UAB were the only teams that posted losing records with 14 turnovers or fewer.

There were six teams above that posted one turnover per game or less. Those teams combined to go 66-15 (.815).

So which teams accomplished both of Gill’s goals last year? Here they are:

Air Force — 34 forced, 12 lost (8-5 record)
Rutgers — 34 forced, 14 lost (9-4)
Boise State — 35 forced, 14 lost (14-0)
Alabama — 31 forced, 12 lost (14-0)

So, of the teams that reached Gill’s “30-14” turnover ratio, half of them went undefeated. I’m sure Gill would take those odds.

Those four teams combined to go 45-9 (.833) last season.

History of turnovers

I know what you’re thinking. The numbers that Gill talked about with turnovers are unreasonable, right?

Here’s the funny thing: Gill has coached a team that has accomplished that goal. And so has former KU coach Mark Mangino.

In 2008, Gill’s Buffalo team forced 33 turnovers while committing only 14. His team went 8-6 that year — his best season as a head coach.

Let’s take a look at KU’s turnover numbers over the last four years under Mangino.

2006 (-5) — 28 turnovers gained, 33 turnovers lost (6-6 record)
2007 (+21) — 35 turnovers gained, 14 turnovers lost (12-1)
2008 (+3) — 25 turnovers gained, 22 turnovers lost (8-5)
2009 (-5) — 17 turnovers gained, 22 turnovers lost (5-7)

Is it any surprise which year KU was the best in turnovers? Obviously, the 2007 season was greatly helped by such a drastic turnover margin.

Also, those looking to explain the Jayhawks’ late-season skid in 2009 might not need to look any further than turnovers.

Tack on eight more defensive turnovers last year (the same number of turnovers KU gained in 2008), and you can bet KU would have won at least one of the final seven games that it lost.

Teaching turnovers?

Here’s the big question, though. Can turnovers be taught?

Here’s what Gill had to say:

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

But by simply running drills that work on forcing/preventing turnovers, can the coach expect the Jayhawks to be markedly improved in that area in 2010?

The answer here is a bit fuzzy.

Here are Buffalo’s turnover numbers in the four years under Gill.

2006 (-4) — 20 turnovers gained, 24 turnovers lost (2-10 record)
2007 (+3) — 19 turnovers gained, 16 turnovers lost (5-7)
2008 (+19) — 33 turnovers gained, 14 turnovers lost (8-6)
2009 (-7) — 18 turnovers gained, 25 turnovers lost (5-7)

If Gill placed an emphasis on turnovers last year at Buffalo, it didn’t show up in the statistics. Not only did the Bulls force just one more turnover than the Jayhawks did in 2009, they also lost three more turnovers than KU.

College football analyst Phil Steele bases many of his preseason predictions on turnover numbers from the previous year. He has a saying: “Turnovers=Turnaround.” Looking at KU, there might be some room for improvement from last year simply by turning a negative turnover margin into a positive one.

All spring, Gill has talked about putting in a quarterback that will limit mistakes and turnovers. He’s also preached putting playmakers on the field and has run drills that have forced KU’s players to work on turnovers.

It might sound boring, but playing a conservative style that limits turnovers on offense while forcing them on defense might be the easiest way for Gill to get the Jayhawks back to six wins and bowl eligibility in 2010.


Jhawk59 12 years ago

What defensive player led the team in turnovers last season?

DallasHawk 12 years ago

Good Article Jesse.

There's no question that we would have won the Colorado and kstate games without costly turnovers. I was at the CU game and we gave them the ball twice in their Red Zone. Can't wait the season to get here!

d_prowess 12 years ago

I really like these analytical articles. They really add depth to the normal football and basketball coverage that the other LJW writers provide. And I don't feel like I see much of this in other papers, so it is a nice, unique perspective that we are lucky to get. Keep it up!

KURocksChalk 12 years ago

Excellent! Another facet of sound football by Gill. I hope to see a few more picks this year. That will be due to coaching schemes for the most part.

BlakeHallJay 12 years ago

This is a superb, well-researched piece. Kudos to you, Jesse, for the solid effort and analysis. Keep these kinds of items coming, both for football and basketball! PS: Does Coach Gill look fabulous in that KU cap or what? This guy is a rock, and I suspect good things will come for him and our program, though we'll need a little patience.

Eric Williams 12 years ago

Question for you Jesse.

I know Coach Gill sees a 5-7 record (twice) at Buffalo as not good enough, but given Buffalo's circumstances prior to his arrival. Shouldn't a 5-7 season be viewed as success?

I mean at one point Buffalo had only one 5 games in 4 years before Gill arrived. So although the turnover margin didn't translate into a winning record every year, it did help the program improve overall.

justinryman 12 years ago

You could add another possible win last year if it weren't for a turnover on the three yard line against Nebraska. That was a game changing fumble by #10, KU didn't score and NU went down and did, KU had all the momentum until then. TO's are game killers in so many ways. It's amazing how practicing all the little things like ball protection and special teams can make a huge difference. Can't wait for the season to start up.

Rock Chalk

Jesse Newell 12 years ago

jhawk613 — You are correct about Buffalo's record needing to be taken in context. In this blog, though, I was more concerned with the turnover margins than the records. Gill has put an emphasis on turnovers at KU, and I would guess he did the same thing at Buffalo. So if practicing turnovers really does help a team's turnover margin, I would have expected last year's turnover numbers for Buffalo to be better than they were.

It's still possible that working on turnover forcing/prevention will help KU next year. I just think it might have been more encouraging for KU fans if Gill had produced more consistent turnover margins at Buffalo.

sevenyearhawk 12 years ago

Another great article, Mr. Newell ...keep up the good work!

KGphoto 12 years ago

Besides the fact that it's just fun watching the other team walk off the field after their QB just got blown up. I would give my left one to have a tomahawking, madman, speed rusher a la Derrick Thomas to generate excitement when the D is on the field.

Mike Kendall 12 years ago


Another great analysis! I enjoy those types of articles. My opinion on KU's defense and turnovers, and again, like others in Jayhawk Nation have said many times before, if the Jayhawks would have had a decent overall defense, KU gets more wins. I am glad Coach Gill is focusing on limiting the turnovers on offense and getting more fumbles on defense. It is about time KU had a above average defense.

Oh, by the way, "njjayhawk," nice humor to get me started in the morning!

beerhawk 12 years ago

Great article Newell, but one aspect of the turnover battle that I would have loved to have seen in this piece (but am much too lazy to research myself) would be how many of those turnovers occurred in "cupcake" games versus conference play.

I hope that you (Mr. Newell that is) continue to get a larger piece of the respective pie here at KUSports, keep the in depth article coming!

Phoggin_Loud 12 years ago

Excellent article!!

Iowa State seems to be an anomaly, but they forced 8 turnovers in one game vs. Nebraska. NU actually had more turnovers than points in the 9-7 loss.

If one game can show the importance of turnovers, that has to be the game.

gongs4ku 12 years ago

I didn't read this article after I realized it didn't say, "steal another team's roster."

A bowl. LOL

gongs4ku 12 years ago

I didn't read this article after I realized it didn't say, "steal another team's roster."

A bowl. LOL

John Sheehan 12 years ago

Good article. Agree with Dallashawk - KSU and CU were ours without key turnovers...

gongs4ku - really?

I love the attention to details HCTG brings - training the team to win the turnover battle - a team with average talent that wins the turnover battle can go from 6-6 to 8-4...big difference.

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