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Thursday, July 11, 2013
Forcing turnovers key for Sooners in 2013

By Brandon Chatmon

Aaron Colvin slowly crept closer and closer to the line of scrimmage as Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege scanned the Oklahoma defense. As the ball was snapped, the Sooners’ cornerback blitzed Doege. Noticing Doege was poised to make a quick throw to his hot receiver, Colvin leapt into the air to snatch the interception.

Colvin's singular, exceptional play was a terrific example of the spark behind the best three-game stretch of the 2012 season for the Sooners’ defense. While Oklahoma’s defense experienced more than its share of struggles last season, the Sooners did have a three-game stretch against Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas that had Sooner Nation convinced that Mike Stoops had returned with a vengeance. While it’s true that none of those offenses finished higher than fourth in the Big 12 in scoring or total offense, it was still an impressive stretch by OU that provided a glimpse at how the Sooners’ could be more successful this season.

Aaron Colvin
Aaron Colvin and the Sooners are hoping to create more turnovers in 2013.
Against the Red Raiders, Longhorns and Jayhawks, the Sooners allowed 16 points and 319.3 yards per game and 4.37 yards per play. OU was aggressive, opportunistic and productive in those three wins, as the Sooners had six sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

Most importantly, OU won the turnover margin battle in each of those games, finishing at plus-6 over that three-game stretch. The Sooners’ wins against UT, TT and KU marked the only times OU won the turnover battle during the entire 2012 season -- a shocking stat for a Sooners program that was plus-14 in 2010, the program’s last BCS berth, and plus-23 in 2008, the program’s last BCS title game berth. Simply put, creating turnovers turns average defenses into good ones, good ones into great ones and great ones into championship contenders.

Needless to say, OU’s defense could get considerably better in a hurry if the Sooners return to their turnover-causing ways in 2013. Here are three things OU could do to increase its chances of creating turnovers this fall:

1. Commit to being more aggressive, even if it results in big plays by opposing offenses

The Sooners move to a one-gap approach up front is a great step towards being more aggressive and less reactive. Big 12 offenses are too good to allow quarterbacks to get comfortable in the pocket. Less reading of the play up front and more blitzing could force quicker decisions by opposing quarterbacks, less accurate throws and force quarterbacks out of their comfort level before the ball is even snapped, leading to more opportunities for interceptions. OU’s 13 total interceptions in 2012 ranked No. 6 in the Big 12 and was its lowest total since 2005.

Blitzing can put OU’s inexperienced secondary in bad positions and result in quick touchdowns for opponents but it would be worth the risk for a Sooners’ defense that struggled to pressure the quarterback in 2012.

2. Tackle the ball

When was the last time you saw a Sooners’ defender arrive at a tackle with the sole focus of taking the ball? It happens on occasion, but it’s clearly not a part of the Sooners’ culture. Or, if it is, they aren’t doing a great job of transferring that from a priority on the practice field to consistent forced fumbles on Saturdays. The Sooners recovered three fumbles in 2012, a number that tied with Texas Tech for worst in the Big 12 and ranked 121st nationally.

3. Keep things simple

“When your mind is moving, your feet are not.”

Several football coaches have used those words to describe why they try to keep things as simple as possible for their players to allow them to make plays. If OU’s defenders are able to play without thinking their athleticism and talent is much more likely to show and their confidence is certain to soar. Confident players are more opportunistic, more likely to create turnovers and more likely to make offensive skills players uncomfortable, which can lead to turnover opportunities.

OU simplified its defense from 2011 to 2012, but it didn’t result in more turnovers due in part to their two-gap approach along the defensive line. In the spring the Sooners’ defensive line was giddy when talking about being allowed to attack a single gap instead of trying to read and react like last season. The Sooners’ schedule is not laden with teams that are significantly more talented than OU, so simply allowing defenders to play aggressively and let their athletic ability take over should result in more turnover opportunities in 2013, particularly with a renewed aggressive approach by the defensive front.