Turn The Tide With Turnovers

Coming into this season, the one statistical category that head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>said the difference between playing for a national title last year (and possibly this one) was improving the team&#146;s turnover ratio.

In 2001, it was eight specific turnovers (committed during a critical six - quarter meltdown against Oklahoma and Colorado) that made all the difference. In. 2002, Texas is +9 in the turnover margin (No. 22 nationally) and faces a high-flying Texas Tech team that is second only to Baylor with its 24 give-aways (NCAA No. 102).

Texas was the last NCAA Division I-A team to commit a turnover this season (a deflected pass against Houston). And while it wasn’t the difference-maker in this year’s contest, QB Chris Simms tossed three costly picks against Oklahoma.

"You’ve got to force some turnovers because you can’t let (Texas Tech) keep the ball," Brown said of the Big 12’s best passing offense (386.2 ypg, NCAA No. 3) and league’s second-best scoring offense (38.6 ppg’ NCAA No. 6). "We’ve done a good job of forcing turnovers."

The Longhorns have combined for 18 interceptions (NCAA No. 3) by eight different players. The defense has forced 18 fumbles, recovering seven. On the year, the offense has converted those 25 turnovers into 82 points. More impressively, the stingy Texas defense has held opponents to just 13 points off of 16 turnovers (10 interceptions, 6 fumbles) this season.

"The defense is playing well with sudden change," Brown added.

The defense can also light up the scoreboard. Texas has tallied 11 interception returns for touchdowns in the last 41 games, a dramatic turnaround from the stretch of 56 games (1995-99) when the defense failed to return a pick for a score.

With the way Tech spreads the field and its QB Kliff Kingsbury slings the ball, nearly everyone on the defense has a chance Saturday to produce a momentum-changing, crowd-silencing turnover. A fourth-down stop counts as a turnover against any team, but especially against Tech (21-of-30 in fourth down conversions; Texas is 7-of-10 in fourth down conversions).

"Everything is four-downs with them," Brown said. "When you go there, you have to have the mentality that it’s four-down territory every time you cross the 50."

The defense has been amazing at stuffing fourth down plays this season. One recalls fourth down stops against Iowa State when the game was still close, and especially those fourth down stops at Nebraska.

"The three stops we had at Nebraska on fourth down were the same as turnovers," Brown said. "That stopped the drive and took our defense off the field."

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