KU's defense determined to prove last year's turnover numbers weren't a fluke
It won’t be easy for the Kansas football team to replicate last year’s turnover numbers in 2019. Yet it is of the utmost importance.
Earlier this week, KU senior safety Mike Lee said as such during the Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas. Last year, the Jayhawks forced a league-best 27 takeaways during a 3-9 campaign. It ranked eighth in the nation, trailing only programs that got the opportunity to play in more than 12 contests.
Kansas returns plenty of players responsible for those stellar numbers, particularly in the secondary. Forcing a similar number of turnovers could help the Jayhawks be competitive during Les Miles’ first year at the helm. More importantly, though, it would send a message.
“If we don't get these numbers this year, people (are) going to think that was a fluke last year,” Lee said. “I feel like most people say it is a fluke, but in our eyes we know that turnovers win games.”
A total of 14 players are back for another season after contributing to KU’s 27 takeaways in 2018. Hasan Defense, Bryce Torneden, Ricky Thomas, Elmore Hempstead Jr., Davon Ferguson, Jeremiah McCullough, Corione Harris and Lee combined for 10 of the team’s 16 interceptions.
That continuity in the secondary is what gives Lee so much confidence about having a similar showing this fall.
“We (are) experienced enough to be the best secondary in the nation,” Lee said. “We (are) experienced and we (are) getting bigger, stronger, faster, smarter. I think we (are) going to be the best in the nation."
Not only did the Jayhawks do a valiant job of forcing opposing teams into mistakes, but they also limited their own miscues on the offensive end.
KU’s offense lost a total of 11 turnovers last season, which came via seven fumbles and four interceptions. It marked the fewest turnovers committed by Kansas in a single season dating back to 2000.
The team’s +16 turnover margin was the second-best clip in the nation, trailing only Georgia Southern’s +22 turnover differential. But that is where the Jayhawks could struggle to repeat last year’s impressive showing in the turnover department.
KU’s offense figures to experience some transition, particularly with a new coaching staff and a new quarterback. Even if it weren’t for that, however, history would suggest that Kansas should cough up more turnovers.
In fact, Phil Steele wrote about exactly that in his preseason magazine. Teams that benefitted from double-digit turnovers typically fall back to the pack the following year. In the last 29 years, 440 teams have had plus double-digit turnovers in a single season.
From Steele’s magazine, here is a breakdown on what those 440 squads did the following year:
• Improved — 122 (28%)
• Weaker — 280 (64%)
• Same — 38 (9%)
Since it is safe to say that the Jayhawks will likely have more turnovers this season, that puts pressure on the defense to make up for it by stealing even more possessions. And Lee is confident that will be the case.
“We (are) going to get how many turnovers we can to turn our program around,” Lee said.