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Turnovers drying up for Texas Longhorns defense

While the defense has started to play better in giving up less total yardage, the ability to produce game-changing turnovers hasn't been there for several weeks now.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The offense for the Texas Longhorns took a big step forward against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl last weekend, but it came without the help of the defense.

It wasn't just one game, either, as defensive coordinator Vance Bedford's group has failed to force a fumble or intercept a pass in each of the last two games.

In the game against the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, the Horns relied on turnovers and the long punt return by senior Jaxon Shipley to set up every scoring drive and giving the offense short fields to work with has been an emphasis all season.

Head coach Charlie Strong knows that the ability to force turnovers changes games and that positive turnover margins have a high correlation to winning.

"That's what's hurting us right now," he said about the lack of takeaways. "We had zero against Baylor and zero against Oklahoma. Two big games, two conference games and we get zero turnovers. We play good defense, but it's all about getting those turnovers because we need to shorten the field for our offense."

The message -- just playing good defense isn't good enough.

And while failing to force a turner against Baylor wasn't particularly surprising since quarterback Bryce Petty rarely throws interceptions -- the two against TCU last weekend are a major outlier in his career -- and since the Bears haven't displayed abysmal ball security this season, not forcing a fumble wasn't especially surprising.

But Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was prone to mistakes coming into the game with an interception rate higher than 3%.

Unfortunately, since the Sooners didn't run many plays as a result of concerting only one first down the entire game and Knight attempted only 20 passes, there weren't a lot of opportunities to intercept passes. However, that didn't mean that there wasn't a missed opportunity or two.

"You look at one [good chance], [Jason] Hall has one right on that sideline, we end up dropping that," said Strong. "We had some overthrows by the quarterback. We weren't able to get in position to go get the interception."

The ball appeared to be deflected slightly before it got to the freshman safety Hall, so it wasn't a gimme interception, but the point about not missing opportunities remains.

Forcing and recovering fumbles is a notoriously unpredictable business, but it is a point of emphasis for Strong and his staff, unquestionably.

"Haven't knocked a ball out yet where we can strip a ball and create a fumble," said Strong. "But that's something we talk about on defense. That's what we talk about as coaches."

In looking through the year-to-year results, the teams in the top 10 of turn over just about every season and forcing fumbles doesn't have much to do with overall success. Take Texas Tech in 2011, for instance -- the Red Raiders ranked No. 107 nationally in defensive S&P+, but finished first in the country with 22 forced fumbles.

Part of the problem is that forcing fumbles almost always relies on poor ball security by opposing teams or the type of mistakes that aren't usually forced, like a muffed punt or a snap that goes over the head of a quarterback or punter.

Check out the picture at the top of this page -- senior linebacker Steve Edmond is both wrapping up Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine and putting his left hand right on the football. But the big Sooner back is exhibiting ideal ball security with all necessary points of contact. The ball is high and tight to his chest, leaving Edmond little change of raking the ball free.

In other words, Texas has much more control over creating interceptions than it does over creating and recovering fumbles.

Supporting the data that suggests increasing the turnover margin makes a huge difference in ultimate results, Strong noted that the difference in turnovers did decide the game.

"[Oklahoma] got one turnover, seven points, difference in the game. They had one. Tyrone gave up one turnover, seven points, difference in the game, and that's what we've got to get. We've got to get turnovers. Defensively, that's when you know you're playing well is when you can get those turnovers."

Forcing more fumbles isn't an easy thing to accomplish, but the back seven has to start producing interceptions again after sitting on nine for the season since leaving Lawrence.

So, who is going to step up?