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Can Oklahoma State Keep Causing Turnovers?



We are two weeks from the start of Oklahoma State’s football season — and there’s plenty to be excited about.

The fanbase’s brimming optimism has recently started to spill over with a few members of the national media pouring their own glass of orange Kool-Aid. Joel Klatt picked Mason Rudolph to win the Heisman. Even a certain maligned publication slapped Rudolph on their cover and tabbed Oklahoma State as their dark-horse playoff pick.

All that’s fine and good. Mike Gundy thinks his team can handle it. Besides, that’s old news to the 13th-year head coach. He’s been having this conversation since his team beat up on Pac-12 darling Colorado in last year’s Alamo Bowl.

Gundy even addressed the similarities between the historic 2011 team and his current group at the start of spring camp. He drew all types of parallels between the two squads — an experienced returning quarterback, wideout talent and depth in oodles and a star tailback.

But Gundy saw one difference between those two teams worth noting.

“The good news is that we may be better on defense than we were then,” Gundy proclaimed “but those teams were really good at forcing turnovers which allowed us to get more opportunities so we could outscore you.”

The scoring part should take care of itself but what about the turnovers?

The good news is that the Cowboys won’t have to look far for a blueprint. Over the last several years, Oklahoma State has been one of the best teams in the nation in turnover margin. Let’s take a look.

Turnover Margin
Year Turnover Margin Ranking Record
2016 +11 T10 10-3
2015 +13 T4 10-3
2014 -5 T98 7-6
2013 +17 T4 10-3
2012 0 T59 8-5
2011 +21 1 12-1
2010 +12 T11 11-2

There’s a direct correlation between winning the turnover battle and winning games. That’s not news to anyone but it’s definitely on the mind of Mike Gundy and Glenn Spencer heading into this fall.

“Scoring defense, turnovers and red-zone defense,” Spencer told PFB. “Those are the three most relevant things that determine winning football games.”

Part of last year’s margin can be attributed to Rudolph’s uber-efficient junior season where he led all Power 5 QBs with a TD-to-interception ratio of 28:4. But Spencer’s teams have been among the nation’s leaders in “takin’ it back” since he took over as defensive coordinator in 2013, save for that unadorned 2014 season.

Here’s a look at forced turnovers over the last several seasons.

Year Fumbles Gained INTS Gained Turnovers Gained Ranking
2016 11 14 25 T24
2015 11 17 28 T9
2014 2 12 14 T116
2013 12 21 33 T5
2012 11 11 22 T58
2011 20 24 44 1
2010 15 19 34 T5

As it was in most categories, the 2011 team was the high-water mark. It forced 44 turnovers, which is insane and the most of any team in the last ten years

So how does a team get good at forcing turnovers? Is it all luck? Is it team speed? Scheme? Or do some players just have a nose for the ball? Ask three “experts” and you’ll likely get three different answers, but I think it’s got to be a combination of all of it, although Mike Gundy and safety Ramon Richards have mentioned team speed lately.

“Man, we got guys that can fly around. A real fast defense,” Richards told Go Pokes. “You know, the ones, twos and even some of the threes can fly around and make up if any of our guys get tired.”

“Defensively we’re similar because we don’t have a player everyone is going to say just dominates, but we have a lot of speed,” Gundy told Doug Gottlieb. “I think they’re really fast. Playing in our conference, it’s so important to have speed to cover from sideline to sideline. They need to force turnovers.”

As far as 2017 goes, the Cowboys lost the players responsible for eight of their 14 forced fumbles and six of their 12 interceptions. Here are the returning players who dispossessed an opponent in 2016.

Player INTS Forced Fumbles
Ramon Richards 3 0
Justin Phillips 1 2
Tre Flowers 0 2
DeQuinton Osborne 1 0
Kevin Henry 1 0
Cole Walterscheid 0 1
Gyasi Akem 0 1

Some changes in scheme and position could make up for some of what was lost. Ramon will get to roam free run around like a crazy man more from the safety position and the three-down sets Spencer and Co. have implemented will allow the Cowboys to field five defensive backs against some of the pass-happy offenses they’ll match up against, potentially allowing more opportunity for playmakers to make plays.

And the young cornerbacks that have raised so many questions may be short on experience but not on athleticism and apparently not on talent. Spencer talked about that with PFB.

“Ramon’s all about what’s best for us,” Spencer said about the position move. “To get the best 11 on the field, that’s the best move.”

Oklahoma State looks poised to win its fair share of football games this fall but to reach its ultimate goal (a Big 12 title and maybe more), the defense is going to have to flip the field. With a tweak here and there — and a couple young ball hawks showing out — it should have a chance to.

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