The Key Number Is Still Turnovers

The numbers just keep getting better for the 2004 Oklahoma State Cowboys. After Saturday's 36-7 win over Iowa State, the Cowboys are 4-0 on the season, 1-0 in the Big 12 for the first time since 1998. In Sunday's polls the Cowboys climbed to 21st in the ESPN/USAToday Coaches poll and up to No. 22 in the Associated Press poll. All good numbers, steady progression, but head coach Les Miles didn't see all steady progression in analyzing the video from the Iowa State win.

"Same stuff, I knew the way it was going," said Miles when asked what the tape showed. "Defense played well, special teams were sporadic, but very good at times, and the offense did enough for us to win. We were fortunate to win."

That doesn't exactly sound like the coach of a team that won their conference opener by four touchdowns.

Then the discussion turned to the real key numbers for Oklahoma State, the numbers that have been most consistent, numbers that mean more than rushing or passing yards for the offense. They are numbers that actually can erase yards given up by the defense, and have in many instances. The Cowboys have forced 14 turnovers this season, including forcing four fumbles that they recovered against Iowa State. The offense has turned the ball over just once, a Donovan Woods interception on the first series of the game on Saturday. That's a whopping 14-1 ratio on turnovers, a plus-13. That comes out to an average advantage of 3.3 turnovers a game. It's an advantage that Miles said along with penalties he would take over all else in every game.

"I'm going to cop out on this answer a little," said Miles when asked if that would be his top choice. "First, I'd take whatever I needed to win the game. The next category would be a constant positive in turnovers and less penalties than my opponents, and I would like my chances."

Oklahoma State wasn't awful in turnovers last season, but they finished minius-4. OSU tossed 13 interceptions to 18 thrown by opponents. Not bad. However, fumbles went 10-1 in favor of the other guys. In the first four games this season fumbles lost is 10-0 in favor of the Cowboys.

If you read the Des Moines Register on Sunday morning you would think that Iowa State was dropping off fumbles like they were the Easter Bunny making deliveries in the Cowboys basket. The truth is these Cowboys forced all the fumbles. Two were caused when the quarterback was blasted on sacks – one by freshman first-time starter at defensive end Nathan Peterson and the other by safety Jamie Thompson. Thompson came back and later stripped Iowa State quarterback Bret Meyer, and Darrent Williams stripped Cyclone tailback Tyease Thompson.

Miles said this is a process the Cowboys have given more attention; in fact it is something they drill on every day.

"We have done that in a round-robin circuit on a daily basis," said Miles. "It has been a real benefit to them. It's the place that they get to practice the turnover."

No player seems to have mastered the art of creating the turnover better than Thompson. So far he has caused three fumbles, recovered one and has an interception.

"He's keyed in and understands what he needs to do to help this team," said Miles of the junior safety that came to OSU from Butler County (Kans.) Community College. "He has a penchant for the big play."

Oklahoma State is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, while this week they have dropped in rushing offense. At a school that has always taken pride in running the football and having top flight tailbacks, a new tradition of being aggressive with turnovers would be a nice addition.

On the road turnovers can be an even greater assist. Miles will be taking the Cowboys to Boulder for the first time as Oklahoma State head coach. Miles was an assistant at Colorado under Bill McCartney from 1982-86.

 "I know a number of their staff members," said Miles of his current Colorado connections. "I coached with Gary Barnett, and I think he is a good person and a good coach. I have a fondness for Colorado. I appreciate your (writers) drama for making a statement with this game, but the reality is we need to go there and win and play our aggressive style of football."

That aggressive style this season means forcing turnovers – the key to these Cowboys' success.

GoPokes Top Stories