OSU football: Looking for a reason this season didn’t reach expectations? Take a glance at the turnovers
STILLWATER — Mason Rudolph uncorked a long pass down the middle of the field. James Washington tracked it as he crested from his position on the right side of the formation toward the pass.
It’s an Oklahoma State play that, week after week, leads to success and breaks the back of the defense.
Saturday, the ball was a little long, the coverage was good, and Duke Shelley intercepted it for Kansas State.
Oklahoma State’s very next drive included an even more shocking development. Rudolph completely overthrew Washington on a pattern over the middle and instead fired a BB to Kansas State’s Kendall Adams. Two drives, two interceptions. From a quarterback who threw two picks in a game only once last season.
If this is a week of soul searching for Oklahoma State, those plays above are ones that must come to mind. Because if you’re looking for a reason OSU (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) has fallen short of expectations in 2017, you could make the case it starts and ends with turnovers.
As the Cowboys regroup for their home finale against Kansas, a game in which they’re 40-point favorites, they must come to grips with their mistakes.
Oklahoma State has 21 turnovers in 11 games. Last year, OSU had 14 in 13 games.
It’s no coincidence OSU is 0-3 in games in which it has lost the turnover battle this year. Ten of the 21 giveaways came in those three defeats.
But for an offense considered to be the most explosive — and by some, simply the best — in the country before the season, the carelessness with the football was a stunning impediment to Oklahoma State’s goals.
“I’ve already done the homework on that,” Mike Gundy said Monday. “We should have been sitting at about 15 right now and we’re not.”
The 21 turnovers this season could surpass the 22 Oklahoma State had in 2014 — a year marked by a midseason five-game losing streak that featured wretched offense. The Cowboys take more chances this season, but their total number still seems too high. Rudolph has thrown nine interceptions a year after throwing four.
Twenty-one giveaways places OSU 109th nationally in turnovers lost.
The issue is compounded by a defense that at times has been opportunistic, but not enough to make a difference.
In 2011 — the measuring stick by which 2017 has been compared all season long — Oklahoma State turned the football over 23 times in 13 games. But the Cowboy defense was historically great at taking the ball back.
Oklahoma State led the country in turnover margin, finishing the season with 44 takeaways and a plus-21 mark.
This year, OSU has 21 takeaways. Which means its turnover margin is zero.
It was zero in 2009 and 2012, and it was negative in 2014.
What do those three years have in common? In the last eight seasons of OSU football (2009-16), they are the only three where Oklahoma State did not win 10-plus games.
Another data point that shows the importance of the turnover battle.
This year’s team still has the chance to get to 10 wins, depending on its bowl performance.
But we already know what’s going to determine that.