After Todd Orlando’s defense forced turnovers at a fairly frenetic pace in 2017, the Texas Longhorns suffered a bit of a regression in 2018.
Last season, Texas managed just 20 turnovers, which tied for 56th nationally, but nevertheless, the Longhorns were still among the top half of the Big 12 in terms of forcing turnovers. Unsurprisingly, the Longhorns’ ability — or the lack thereof — to force at least one turnover in a game was one of the key indicators of success in 2018.
Three of the four losses in 2018 came in games in which Texas didn’t force a single turnover, failing to do so against the Maryland Terrapins, the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the West Virginia Mountaineers. In the only win of the season without a turnover, a 19-14 road victory over Kansas State, Texas had its second-smallest margin of victory of the season and had to avoid a fourth-quarter meltdown to extend its winning streak.
However, the problem for the Longhorns on the turnover front was actually their ability to turn them into offensive momentum, especially late in the season.
Of the 20 turnovers Texas forced in 2018, just 10 of them resulted in points — four touchdowns and six field goals for an average of 2.3 points per turnover. The numbers tilt even further when you consider that three of their four touchdowns came in the first six games of the season against Tulsa, TCU, and Oklahoma. Throughout the last eight games of the season, that number drops to just 1.8 points per turnover.
Throughout the seven games between Texas wins in the Red River Showdown and the Sugar Bowl, the Longhorns didn’t turn any of their nine forced turnovers into a touchdown on the other end.
That stretch includes a two-turnover, no-score game against the Iowa State Cyclones. Granted, one of those was the game-ending strip sack by Joseph Ossai. The other was a Chris Brown interception that resulted in a seven-play drive ending in a missed field goal.
This is emblematic of the team’s inability to move the ball and capitalize on the momentum in the latter half of the season.
In the final eight games of the season, Texas forced 11 turnovers; five of which resulted in drives of less than 10 yards. That does include the game-ender from Ossai, as well as the safety in the Big 12 Championship game. In fact, if you just look at the final six games of the regular season, Texas produced just 12 points off of seven turnovers.
On the whole, only six of the 20 drives following a forced turnover chewed up more than 25 yards, with two resulting in field goals and two resulting in touchdowns. This, of course, could become problematic when you think about how infrequently turnovers happen in a conference like the Big 12.
In 2018, the conference as a whole forced just 177 turnovers or 17.7 turnovers per team. The only Power 5 conference with fewer turnovers per team was the SEC with 16 turnovers per team.
While it would be reasonable to expect a rebuilding Longhorns defense to remain around the mean in forced turnovers, both nationally and within the Big 12, the big key will be how much more Sam Ehlinger and the offense can make of those opportunities.