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Why Turnover Margin May Have Doomed Oklahoma State in 2017



Thus far in 2017, Oklahoma State has its best defense since 2013. That is a real thing that is true, despite what your eyes tell you. Look at these points per drive numbers from the last five years.

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Combine that reality with the fact that OSU had the most efficient offense in school history (we don’t have 1988 numbers) as well as one of the 25 most efficient offenses in college football in the last decade, and OSU should have been significantly better than the last two years when it had roughly the same defense but a worse offense. Right?

Apparently not.

There were two things at play here. The first is that when you look at season-long stats, it’s hard to get a clear picture of how individual games played out. I’ve said this a million times, but a team that scores 50 points every game is far more valuable than a team that scores 100 one game and 0 the next, even though both teams average 50 a game.

The other part of this equation for me, though, is turnovers. OSU has long been a team that forced loads of them, which has made them a great success in the Big 12. This year? Not so much. The Pokes ranked No. 31 nationally in turnovers gained and No. 61 in turnover margin per game. Not good!

Compare that with recent years. First, turnovers forced per game.


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It’s not a bad number, but it’s not a great one, either. It’s also one of the three worst of the last eight years. The turnover margin per game is even worse.

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Look at the other poor outings. One was 2012 when OSU won eight games. The other was 2014 when it barely made a bowl. This tells a pretty good story of why OSU only won nine games in the regular season despite not seeing a drop in defensive efficiency and seeing a massive rise on the offensive side.

Consider this: In Big 12 play, OSU only had one more punt than OU (33-32), but they had twice as many turnovers (16-8). This results in poor field position and lost momentum. There are, of course, myriad reasons why OSU’s season ended in disappointment, but this one stood out to me. (An aside: OSU had 33 punts in B12 play. TCU had 60. That is infuriating.)

In a year in which the difference between 11-1 and 7-5 was literally four drives (OU, KSU, ISU, UT), things like field position mattered (especially for Oklahoma State). Last year, they were 18th in offensive field position and first in defensive field position. This year they slipped to 55th and 13th respectively, mostly because of poor kick coverage (but also because those turnover numbers were way down).

So the question becomes whether the last few years were a mirage or if 2017 was the outlier. It was a hell of a year to let what you traditionally have done best slip through the cracks (field position, turnovers etc.) and it cost OSU a NY6 bowl or better in the last year of Rudolph and Washington’s careers.

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