Commentary

Defense needed more turnovers

Texas had only 21 takeaways in 2011, which was 55th best in the country

Updated: December 15, 2011, 10:31 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas was missing something against Kansas State.

And Missouri.

And Oklahoma State.

And Oklahoma.

And Baylor.

There is one common theme that runs throughout all those losses -- turnovers. Sure the Longhorns had a few, but what is also worth concentrating on is that Texas didn't get hardly any.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTexas didn't allow many big plays in the passing game, but also did not create many turnovers.
In those five games, all losses, Texas created two turnovers. Juxtapose that against the 15 giveaways and it is pretty easy to understand why after a game such as Baylor, Mack Brown can't think of much else to say but, "You can't turn the ball over six times and expect to win the ball game."

No, you can't. Especially not when the defense fails to take the ball back. But that was the case in almost every Texas loss.

Only once in those losses did Texas not lose the turnover battle. That was against Missouri. Emmanuel Acho stripped a ball from the Tigers inside the red zone. Texas turned it into three points. Of course, this being the Texas offense, it gave the ball back on an interception. But Missouri failed to score off the turnover. The Tigers were the only ones who failed to score after securing a turnover.

Again, in the five losses, turnovers amounted to 65 points for Texas' opponents. Texas scored three points off turnovers.

It is not the defense's responsibility to set up the offense to score or, for that matter, to score itself. But given the struggles the Texas offense has faced in the past two years, an opportune turnover or two against a team with a winning record might be nice.

This is a trend that has gone on for two years. Last season Texas finished 116th and in a tie with New Mexico in turnover margin. No team ever wants to be tied with New Mexico in any football statistic. And while everyone pinned that dubious stat on Garrett Gilbert, the defense was also at fault for not manufacturing turnovers.

Texas' defense created 18 turnovers in 2010. That was 86th among 120 FBS teams. This season they were slightly better with 21, good enough for 55th.

"We have got to force more turnovers. We're not where we want to be there." Brown uttered that quote after the Oklahoma State game. It had been his mantra since the preseason and would be throughout the second half of the year.

But, why the issue?

Some may credit it to the rest of the quarterbacks and strength of teams in the conference, but that doesn't hold water.

Oklahoma State led the nation in turnovers gained with 42. The Cowboys played the same offenses Texas did. They also don't have nearly the number of NFL-caliber defenders as Texas does.

The reason Oklahoma State was successful at creating turnovers is because of a swarming defensive mentality. During practice the Cowboys employ a two-whistle system. The first signals the end of the play. The second signals when the defense can stop going after the ball.

Another reason for OSU's success is that the offense was so efficient it put pressure on opponents to throw the ball and play catch up. That led to opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks trying to make plays outside their comfort zone.

Now Texas isn't likely to become that type of offense any time before 2013 or beyond. So in the interim it might -- and it is hard to say this about a Manny Diaz defense -- need to step up the chance-taking. There is a risk-reward quotient when it comes to turnovers that Texas has failed to figure out. Instead they have erred on the side of caution, trying desperately not to give up the big play.

The defense was successful, surrendering only two TD passes of 20 or more yards, and those came in the last game against the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. It's understandable Texas had to play this way, because it knew the struggles of its offense. Still, it might be time to throw a little more caution to the wind.

Another factor impeding Texas' takeaway progress has been the pressure on the quarterback. The Longhorns, despite having what could be two NFL defensive ends in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, plus a defensive tackle in Kheeston Randall who will most assuredly get a shot at the next level, were middle of the pack in sacks. If a quarterback is not under duress, he is not going to make a mistake.

Next season, three of the teams Texas lost to in 2010 and 2011 -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor -- could have new quarterbacks. New quarterbacks usually mean more mistakes. So maybe then the turnovers will start to happen for the Texas defense. Until then Texas will just have to wait and wonder why so few happened in 2011.

"We just try to go into every game trying to get turnovers, and sometimes they come, and sometimes they don't," cornerback Carrington Byndom said.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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