Give Away/Take Away Game A Key Saturday

Like those who lead most college football teams, Colorado coaches preach the importance of creating turnovers on defense, and limiting them on offense. Turnovers could especially play a key role Saturday if the Buffs are to upset the No. 3-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Turnovers are sometimes a mystery.

Teams that create more than they give away tend to win more games. Having a plus turnover margin is usually one marker of a successful team. But they're a bit like the chicken or the egg question: Which comes first – the good team or the turnovers they get?

However you slice this chicken or boil that egg, it's obvious Oklahoma has been doing something right and Colorado something less right in terms of turnovers this fall.

The Sooners are plus-3 in turnover margin, the Buffs are minus-6. A closer look at the numbers reveals Oklahoma has created 10 turnovers and given up seven. CU has created four, but given up 10.

And Oklahoma is 4-0 in the win-loss column, Colorado is 2-2.

"They will not turn over the ball (by themselves), so you've got to find a way to create turnovers," CU cornerback Terrence Wheatley said about Oklahoma. "You've got to force turnovers against this team to have a chance."

Wheatley happens to lead the Buffs with two interceptions. But there have been times this season when CU defenders have been in a position to make a pick and have come up empty handed.

"We need for guys, when they get their hands on the ball, to catch it and get the ball back," Dan Hawkins said. "I think the whole idea of modern-day defense is not to stop (the other team's offense), it's more to get the ball back."

If it's a constant emphasis in practice, and on every defender's mind, is there anything more you can do to change CU's trend of not generating a lot of turnovers this fall?

"I really don't know," Wheatley said. "I think a lot of it is just going out and making plays. A lot of guys will be in place to make an interception and they'll be scared that they'll miss the ball. Even in practice. You've just got to go out there in practice and make plays."

More pressing perhaps is CU's need to take better care of the football on offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Hawkins has played beyond his years this fall, and is a huge reason opposing defensive coordinators have to worry about the CU passing game, after not giving a ton of thought to it last season.

Hawkins, though, is the first to admit he's still learning to temper youthful zeal with better judgment.

Case in point was the second-half interception he threw during the win over Miami-Ohio. On the play, Hawkins saw wide receiver Josh Smith lined up against man coverage. Smith was Hawkins' primary target — his first option — on the play, as well. Smith's task was to beat the defender on a fly pattern down the sideline.

Thing was, it was a 4th and short. Checking down his reads to a second, third or fourth option — a receiver on a shorter route — was the prudent move.

Instead, Hawkins went for the glory and threw to Smith. The ball was intercepted.

"Me being a freshman — I saw we're up by 30, if I throw a long touchdown here we'll bury them," Hawkins said earlier this week. "Whereas, I should've played it like it was a tight ballgame rather than the home run shot. We make that play (to Smith) and it's great. But if you don't make it, you're the stupidest guy in the world.

"It's tough to play with that control, but that's what I've got to do."

Fortunately, Hawkins learned that lesson when the stakes were low. Colorado was already going to win that game, and the interception turned out to be no big deal. This Saturday, the Buffs would likely pay dearly for such a pick.