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. 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.”