During a press conference in the spring, Kliff Kingsbury was asked whether improving turnover creation was a high priority. He answered vigorously in the affirmative, and added, "It's amazing they [the 2012 Red Raiders] won as many games as they did with as few turnovers as they got."
And what they got was a paltry sum indeed. The Red Raiders managed eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries over the course of 13 games. The former number was 92nd "best" in the nation, while the latter figure checked in at 121. Obviously, the Tech defense was one of college football's worst at generating turnovers.
Kingsbury has stated that he would like to double the turnovers generated from a year ago. That would put the Red Raiders at 22 created turnovers, a number that would land Tech in the middle of the statistical pack at year's end. But then even mediocrity would be a substantial improvement.
Will the Red Raider defense generate more or fewer than 22 turnovers in 2013?
Tech will create more turnovers this coming season; on that you can bank. After all, it's impossible to fall off the bed when you're sleeping on the floor. But how many more turnovers is the real question.
Matt Wallerstedt's scheme and philosophy alone should account for several more picks and fumble recoveries. The new defensive coordinator's goal will be to sow confusion and mistakes in opposing offenses. He will seek to disguise coverages and blitzes. He will show a wide variety of looks in the hope of creating hesitancy and timidity. And, of course, he will go to great lengths to heat up the quarterback.
If all of the above goes according to plan—and there is no guarantee it will—turnovers will result. If receivers and quarterbacks incorrectly read the defense, balls will be thrown to Red Raiders rather than the intended targets. If linemen and backs fail to detect a blitzer or a twist, rushers will come free, and this will create sacks and fumbles, and hurried passes. Again, the result should be some freebies for the Tech defense.
But personnel are part of the turnover equation as well. Does Wallerstedt have the sort of players who can play his scheme effectively, and take advantage of mistakes by the offense? And are his players physical enough to shake loose a significant number of fumbles?
To an extent, these questions cannot be answered until the games are played. Specifically, it is impossible to know how well the players fit the scheme and how thoroughly they've assimilated it. The coaches—Kingsbury in particular—have stated how impressed they've been with the defensive players' "buy in" and the speed with which they've grasped the defense. But honestly, we'd be surprised if the coaches said anything less.
At any rate, this defense does have some players who seem capable of creating fruitful chaos. Kerry Hyder is a wonderful interior defensive lineman, not only because he clogs up running lanes, but because he gets into the backfield regularly. Dartwan Bush is a solid pass rusher and a nice complement to Hyder. They will make for a dangerous duo.
Micah Awe will shock the Big 12 with his speed, intensity and wicked hits. He could be the key player in the effort to ratchet up the turnovers. And Pete Robertson is a linebacker who could do great things coming off the edge.
The real concern here is the secondary. Only Bruce Jones returns as a starter, and he was not exactly a ballhawk at corner last season. What's more, none of the other players currently slated to start in the defensive backfield give great evidence of being turnover creators. Perhaps a newcomer or two will fill this role, but there are no guarantees. And it's hard to imagine any defense generating a large number of turnovers if its defensive backs aren't coming up with oskies.
At the end of the season we will see significant improvement in turnover creation, but a questionable secondary and a brand new scheme mean that the improvement will fall short of the goal of doubling turnovers.