Last season’s demons exorcised by winning crucial turnover war

Christian Corona

Now that the Longhorns are winning the turnover battle, they’re starting to win a few football games, too.

The nine turnovers Texas committed between its games against UCLA and Iowa State last season were too much to overcome. But after turning the tables on the Bruins and Cyclones this season, the Longhorns pummeled them both, forcing seven turnovers while committing only two, and beating the two teams by an average of 24 points.

“Turnovers are what’s going to win and lose ballgames,” said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. “The first goal that we have set in our offense is to eliminate turnovers – to have zero mistakes, to have zero turnovers. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Texas has come a long way since last year, when they ranked 116th out of 120 FBS teams in turnover margin. Now, the Longhorns are in a tie for seventh.

“That’s the biggest difference in our football team this year,” said head coach Mack Brown.

Texas outgained Iowa State in terms of yardage 400-380, a slim difference considering the 23-point margin of victory and the 34-0 halftime lead the Longhorns amassed. Even after the first half, Texas had only 40 more yards than the Cyclones. But that’s what happens when you protect the ball like the Longhorns have this season.

“We’ve emphasized ball security in practice,” said sophomore guard Mason Walters. “I don’t ever have to worry about ball security. If I see a ball on the ground, I’m just going to fall on it. But even as a lineman, I’ve noticed Coach [Major] Applewhite and Coach [Bryan] Harsin preaching ball security because, at the end of the day, a win or a loss can be determined by turnovers.”

Part of the reason Texas has been so great in the turnover department has been their ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Longhorns’ lack of sacks in its first three games was cause for concern but after a four-sack effort against the Cyclones, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to worry anymore.

Even before the impressive showing in Ames, however, Texas was still racking up plenty of quarterback hurries and the secondary has taken advantage of the poor decisions opposing quarterbacks have been forced into making.

“Our defensive backs are playing incredibly well,” Acho said. “When the offense makes a mistake, you judge yourself based on how well you capitalize [on] it. I think we’ve done a good job of capitalizing on those mistakes.”

Takeaways could be hard to come by when Texas faces Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Junior quarterback Landry Jones has been extremely accurate this year, completing more than 70 percent of his throws. The Sooners have committed seven turnovers, two more than the Longhorns this season, but they have also ran almost 60 more plays than Texas.

Jones is responsible for five of those turnovers but as thrown for twice as many touchdowns and attempted more than four times as many passes as any of Texas’ quarterbacks. To their credit, Case McCoy and David Ash have collectively completed nearly 70 percent of their passes.

More importantly, McCoy and Ash have yet to throw their first interception, which is significant considering the huge role turnovers play in deciding football games. If no one kept score, you could probably figure out who won if you just kept track of turnovers, and now that the Longhorns are winning the turnover battle, they’re starting to win games, too.