Oklahoma State Is Not Forcing Turnovers, and It Could Use Some

The Cowboys are not taking it back, and that leaves little margin for error for an OSU offense that needs it.

When we dug into Bryan Nardo this offseason, following his appointment as OSU defensive coordinator, one of the more enticing factors that we uncovered was his apparent knack for coaching up forced turnovers.

During his eight years at the helm of Emporia State, Nardo’s defense was one of the best in Div. II at forcing turnovers and was the only program to force 25-plus takeaways from 2012-16. In his single year at the helm of Gannon last season, his group forced a respectable 16. That total would be an absolute miracle for OSU in 2023.

Through four games, OSU has only created two turnovers — a recovered fumble against Central Arkansas in Week 1 and an interception at Arizona State a week later. So, no takeaways in either of the Cowboys’ last two losses.

Conversely, the Pokes have coughed it up five times in four games, including four interceptions, which has them tied with UCF at the bottom of the Big 12 with a TO margin of -3.

OSU’s offense has been consistent only in its inconsistency. OSU can score 27 points against an FCS team, and two Power Five teams. It could only score seven against a Sun Belt Team. It could use all the favorable field position and extra possessions it can get.

The Cowboys used to pride themselves on forcing turnovers, coning a We Takin’ It Back slogan during the Glenn Spencer days. Some of the more impressive pick-pocket defenses in college football this century propped up Mike Gundy-coached teams.

In 2013, arguably OSU’s best defense, the Cowboys were football bandits forcing 33 takeways. Before that, the 2010 and 2011 teams ransacked offenses, forcing 39 and 44 turnovers, respectively. Those days seem like ancient history one-third of the way through 2023.

These two takeaways (through four games) are the lowest total by the Cowboys in at least 15 years. It’s still early, but I was curious how the Pokes’ paltry 0.5-turnover-per-game average might compare to the first four games of those seasons, and how it might forecast TOs the rest of the way.

It’s the lowest by a significant margin.

Year TOs thru 4 TOs All Year
2022 4 19
2021 6 20
2020 4 16
2019 5 19
2018 6 13
2017 7 24
2016 9 25
2015 9 28
2014 6 14
2013 7 33
2012 4 22
2011 13 44
2010 14 39
2009 9 30

Let me be clear in stating that there is a certain amount of luck that goes into dispossessing your opponent, and your opponent has something to say about it as well.

So far, UCA has given up the ball four times in four games. Arizona State has coughed it up sick 11 times. South Alabama has six total turnovers. Iowa State has committed three. They run the gamut, but none are immune to foibles. The Cowboys just haven’t gotten their hands on the football enough times.

So how do they change that?

“That’s going to come with confidence,” said Nardo after the game in Ames. “That’s going to come with being able to press the issue, being able to get ourselves in our zone coverages a little bit more and get some eyes on the quarterback.”

Look, the Cowboys have plenty of issues. At this point on the page, you’re probably screaming But what about the wide-open receivers?! at your screen. We discussed that here.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get the Cowboys out their current hole, and their offense doesn’t look able to line up and outscore anyone, nor are they near the level of defense that the 2021 team had to rely on. A couple extra possessions would go a long way.

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