K-State makes turnover margin even more massive


Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN - The number grows more freakish each week.

By forcing five Oklahoma State turnovers last Saturday without giving the ball up once, the unbeaten Kansas State Wildcats pushed their season turnover margin to plus-20 through nine games, which is noteworthy in and of itself.

Then consider that 21 points in the 44-30 victory came directly off turnovers and an end zone interception late in the game stalled an OSU comeback. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

On the way to a 6-0 Big 12 record, the Wildcats have turned the ball over once, on a kick return against Iowa State, while taking it away 19 times. For the season, they have outscored their opponents a staggering 111-0 off turnovers.

That number definitely caught coach Bill Snyder's attention.

"Someone brought it to my attention and I shared it with our players as well, but I have never heard of a statistic like that because I do not think anybody has ever kept a statistic like that," Snyder said of the 111-point margin. "Whoever came up with it has really done some amazing research."

Credit K-State's sports information office for the research, but K-State's attention to detail for providing the numbers.

The Wildcats have lost two fumbles and quarterback Collin Klein has been intercepted twice. The last turnover by the offense came in the third game of the season, against North Texas.

"Coach Snyder definitely emphasizes that, maybe more than most coaches," tight end Travis Tannahill said of the Wildcats' obsession with ball security. "Some coaches want their quarterback to take more risks than maybe we do.

"There's definitely some times when I thought maybe Collin could have squeezed that ball in there to someone and he didn't and he tucked it and ran the ball for five yards, which coach Snyder wants but maybe some coaches don't. That mentality, that philosophy obviously has worked so far."

Snyder said the Wildcats put a premium on protecting the ball in practice as well.

"You have to make it game-like conditions and simulate some of the positions that you can get into with the ball and some of the things that you would do," Snyder said.

"During the team phase of our practices it is important for the scout squad groups when we are working against scouts with our offense, or when we are going good on good (first team offense vs. No. 1 defense) that whoever sits in a defensive role that they make a bona fide effort to disrupt the offense in terms of trying to strip the ball ... and all the things that defenses can do," Snyder added.

Even with the practice drills, Tannahill is impressed by the Wildcats' ability to limit mistakes.

"It's pretty remarkable to not even have fumbles happen," he said. "You can have the ball exactly where it needs to be and take a wrong hit and the ball's going to pop out."

The same holds true with tipped passes.

"(Defensive linemen) put (their hands) up at the right time and then a linebacker or safety picks it, which our defense has done great at," Tannahill added. "We're fortunate, but obviously our hard work and attention to detail has helped."

By aggressively going after the ball in practice, the Wildcat defense also has developed a knack for forcing turnovers, resulting in 13 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.

"This is the first time I've ever been a part of a team trying to make the opposing team fumble," said senior running back Angelo Pease. "When I was in juco (Hutchinson Community College) we didn't do it and when I was in high school we didn't do it.

"I think it's a good thing because our scout team goes hard. They try to imitate what the other team's going to try to do - stripping the ball and going hard - and I think that helps us."

The offense certainly doesn't complain when practice carries over to game day for the defense.

"The defense being able to create turnovers has been great," Tannahill said. "We've gotten some hits on the quarterback, Jarell (Childs) has had a couple of returns and then our secondary has been playing great."

Childs, a linebacker, returned a fumble for a touchdown at Oklahoma and set up another score with a long fumble return against Texas Tech. The Wildcats have three defensive touchdowns on the season to go with three more on kick returns.

"Coach Snyder, he's big on discipline and execution - no penalties, no turnovers," Pease said. "That's what we thrive off of."