Five for 10: Reverse Turnover Trend

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has stated repeatedly the goal every year is to win the Big 12 championship. In order to do that the Red Raiders must win at least 10 games as the last team to win a Big 12 title with less than 10 regular season victories was Colorado back in 2001. With that in mind is doing a five-part series analyzing what Tech must do in order to get to 10 wins.

The most hackneyed cliché in all of football is that “the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game.” How many times have we heard that? Even more than we’ve heard the Aggies complain about the fans in Lubbock.

But strictly speaking, is the cliché true? Not always. Hence, Texas Tech managed to win eight games last year despite finishing the season No. 123 (out of 125 teams) in turnover margin. That’s right. The Red Raiders were negative 1.08 for the season yet still managed to go to a respectable bowl and win the thing.

You can bet, however, that Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t want to attempt the feat twice in a row. At 2012 Big 12 Media Days, the fact that Tech had finished the previous season No. 110 in turnover margin was mentioned to him, and the rookie coach shook his head in disbelief and said how remarkable it was that the team won as many games as it did. He essentially said the same thing about his own club earlier this month in Dallas.

Yet while it is obviously possible for a team to do poorly in turnover margin and still win several games, it is equally true that championships are won by teams who do well in that area. Florida State, last year’s national champion, finished No. 3 in turnover margin. And Baylor, the Big 12 champ and a team that throws the football almost as much as Tech, finished No. 8.

When we break down Tech’s turnover difficulties it is clear that Red Raider woes were widely distributed rather than concentrated in a single area. In the category of interceptions thrown Tech, was No. 115 with 18 (Baylor finished No. 8). But given that Tech runs the football so little, one might expect the Red Raiders to do well in terms of fumbles lost. Not so. The Red Raiders coughed up the pigskin and failed to recover it 15 times, which was 118th “best” in the country.

Defensive statistics were a little better, but not much. Tech pulled down 8 interceptions on the season, good for the No. 98 spot nationally. In terms of fumbles recovered the Red Raiders finished No. 30, but that statistic presumably includes fumbles recovered by the offense as well.

There is, fortunately, some reason to believe Tech will do better in 2014 than in 2013 (they certainly couldn’t do much worse).

To begin with, having a veteran quarterback (and subtracting fumble-prone Baker Mayfield) will be a help. Davis Webb looks like a confident quarterback who has complete command of the offense. His highly accurate passes should rarely find the mitts of enemy defensive backs.

Likewise the Red Raider offensive line will be more experienced and should be considerably improved. If that is indeed the case, blindside, fumble-causing hits on Webb should be infrequent.

Defensively, Tech should benefit from the return of a healthy J.J. Gaines. Before going down with an injury last season he was Tech’s only generator of turnovers. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt will count on Gaines to resume that role.

Justis Nelson, who pilfered a pass in the Holiday Bowl, is another player who could nab a few oskies, and Pete Robertson is an explosive, athletic linebacker who may jar balls loose and perhaps grab a few out of the air as well. And if continuity in the defensive scheme aids turnover creation, well the Red Raiders will benefit from working with the same defensive coordinator two years in a row for the first time in eons.

Regardless of how the numbers ultimately shake out, one thing is certain—turnover statistics like last season’s may get the Red Raiders to another bowl, but it won’t get them to 10 wins.

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