Texas Tech Must Focus on Turnovers In Spring Ball Practices

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Texas Tech has a glaring problem with turnovers. On offense, Tech is one of the most giving teams in the nation, and on defense Tech is one of the most polite units in the game.

In 2013, the Red Raiders turned the ball over 24 times, and took the ball away only 11 times. They were tied for 106th in the nation in turnover margin. And last season, the Red Raiders gained only 15 turnovers and gave the ball away 28 times, good for 116th in the nation. In both years of the Kingsbury era, Tech has finished the year minus thirteen in turnover margin. If Texas Tech is to improve on last year’s 4-8 record, the turnover margin must improve drastically and working on turnovers should be an immediate focus this spring.

Giveaways

Tech has started a true freshman quarterback in 17 of Kliff Kingsbury’s 25 games as head coach, and it stands to reason that freshmen quarterbacks are more prone to giving the ball away. In 2013, Baker Mayfield gave the ball away 11 times and Webb gave the ball away 10 times. Thus, only three of Tech’s turnovers in 2013 came from players other than a quarterback.

In 2014, Webb turned the ball over 16 times (13 interceptions) in only seven games. Pat Mahomes was much better, throwing only two interceptions in the last four games of the season. But in total last season, quarterbacks were responsible for 18 of Tech’s 28 turnovers.

Nov 22, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes (5) runs with the ball against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

If Tech is to decrease its offensive turnovers, the improvement must come from the quarterback position. Kingsbury must make ball security the No. 1 priority for determining whether Webb or Mahomes will be the starting quarterback.

Giveaways cost Tech in every loss last year.In fact, Tech had only one game in 2014, (vs. Oklahoma) in which they did not give the ball away. That game was the first time Tech had won the turnover battle in a season-and-a-half’s worth of games.

Ball security must be a priority for the offensive staff this spring.

In the NFL, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game 80 percent of the time. (Of course, Tech lost the one game in which they won the turnover battle.) So it stands to reason that the percentage is similar, if not higher in NCAA football.

The greatest impact Tech can make in 2015 is protecting the ball, however, Tech must also improve on the other side of the ball.

Takeaways

In the Big 12 it is almost impossible to have a defense capable of shutting the opponent’s offense down. The conference is the premier offensive conference in the league, which magnifies the importance of forcing turnovers. Giving your own offense two or three extra possessions per game is often the difference in winning or losing.

When it comes to taking the ball away, the Red Raiders are one of the worst teams in America. In 2012, Tech went from the middle of October to its bowl game without creating a single turnover. In 2013, Tech was last in the conference in turnovers forced. And last season, Tech was 9th in turnover margin causing only 15 turnovers all season, while TCU led the conference by creating 32 turnovers.

There is no doubt that Tech is trying to change this pattern by hiring David Gibbs. In his two seasons at Houston, Gibbs’ defense created a staggering 73 takeaways. Gibbs does this by encouraging his players to make forcing turnovers their mission.

“The difference now is, when you come to practice, you’re going to see us take the ball away, because that’s all we’re going to do.” Wrote Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal on Gibbs. “That’s all we’re going to focus on.”

Houston players were often encouraged to try to take the ball away from an offensive player as he carried the ball back to the huddle, or any time a player had a football in his hands. Many of the Cougar players took this mentality home, where they would try to take anything (television remotes, food, drinks, phones, blankets, etc.) from their fellow players.

Many football observers believe that turnovers are as much simple luck or fortunate circumstances as they are effort and intent. But Gibbs believes that creating turnovers is a mentality that must be engrained in his players psyche long before they take the field in the fall. “We’ve got to get the ball. We will. We will. (Knocks on wood.) We’ll practice it.” Gibbs said to Williams.

“We’ve got to get the ball. We will. We will. (Knocks on wood.) We’ll practice it.” – David Gibbs

Many fans will focus on the spring’s quarterback competition and clamber for updates on how new players like Breiden Fehoko and Mike Mitchell look, but what fans won’t see or hear much about is whether or not the team develops a new obsession with takeaways. Yet, improving the turnover margin is the best way Tech can improve upon their 4-8 record from 2014.

The Red Raiders do not have the talent to hold conference opponents to under 20 points a game, but if they develop a greedy mentality and learn to take the ball away, they can be an effective defense.

Turnovers always play a huge role in a team’s season, and this spring, Tech must emphasize turnovers on each side of the ball. The offense must hold on to the ball at all costs and the defense must be maniacal about taking the ball away from the offense. If this mindset becomes second nature to the Red Raiders, 2015 will have a much brighter outlook.