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November 8, 2012
Wildcats keep cashing in turnovers
The numbers are sick, sick, sick. Bill Snyder addressed them with his team earlier this week. But even the legendary Kansas State head coach admitted that he had never heard of such a thing "because I don't think anybody's ever kept a statistic like that." But it's right there on paper. And on the field each Saturday, it looks just as gaudy.
No. 3 Kansas State, 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Big 12 Conference, remains on path for a potential date with destiny, as it seeks its first league title since 2003, and armed its highest-ever No. 2 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series standings, looks to go farther than any team in school history: The national championship game.
The Wildcats enter Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff at TCU, 6-3 and 3-3, on the doorstep of staging a streak of consecutive wins only surpassed by the 1998 squad that posted the program's first undefeated regular season.
While carrying onto the field a bevy of top-25 rankings in several major statistical categories each week, K-State continues to offer a Football Bowl Subdivision course titled "The Art of the Turnover 101."
And the ball-hawking, sure-handed Wildcats are taking everyone to school.
"Anytime the defense creates a turnover that gets us excited," K-State senior tight end Travis Tannahill said. "Usually, we'll have a short field, or the turnover saves some points from getting on the board. You're just out there ready to execute and put some points on the board."
Take last weekend, for example. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was beside himself after he saw the Cowboys suffer through five turnovers, including an Allen Chapman 29-yard touchdown on an interception return, one of three -- yes, three -- interceptions by the senior cornerback, who earned national player of the week honors.
In all, K-State turned three Oklahoma State turnovers into touchdowns in a 44-30 victory at a soldout Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"That's as poorly as we've played on special teams and obviously turned the ball over in a long time," Gundy said. "I'm not saying they don't do a good job, but a lot of them are self-inflicted."
Gundy became the latest in a line of frustrated Big 12 head coaches that have felt the aftershock of sudden change, as K-State bats passes for interceptions, strips quarterbacks and running backs for fumbles -- mistakes that 70 percent of the time result in points for the Wildcats.
K-State is tied with Kent State at No. 1 nationally with a 2.22 turnover margin. The Wildcats entered the week tied for fifth in forcing 24 turnovers while their four mistakes -- two interceptions, one lost fumble on offense, and one lost fumble on special teams -- remain on pace to make the Wildcats the most ball-secure squad in the history of major college football.
The Wildcats' current average of 0.44 turnovers per game would break the FBS record by Wisconsin of 0.69 (nine in 13 games) during the 2010 season.
Texas Tech senior safety Cody Davis put it best: "They will not beat themselves."
In K-State's 55-14 rout at No. 17 West Virginia, then a 55-24 thrashing of No. 15 Texas Tech, and then a 14-point victory over the Cowboys and the nation's most explosive offense, the Wildcats were the recipients of multiple miscues by the Mountaineers (two turnovers), Red Raiders (three) and Cowboys (five).
That's 10 turnovers in three games, or equal the amount of scoring drives K-State allowed over those 12 quarters.
K-State didn't commit a single turnover.
But there's one statistic in particular that has the college football nation talking this week. K-State has outscored its opponents 111-0 on points off of turnovers in 2012. Snyder has never heard of anything quite like it. K-State sports information director Kenny Lannou updated his official count after the Wildcats' latest classroom session against the Cowboys.
Hours later, ESPN's Chris Fowler tweeted: "Points off turnovers now stands at an amazing 111-0! Never seen a better number in that category."
It's real. It's all right here on the chart to the right.
On the field, it's been a big-time part of the Wildcats' success.
In all, K-State has scored off 17 of 24 turnovers (70.8 percent) with 15 touchdowns and two field goals. That's nine interceptions, including two returned to the end zone, and eight fumble recoveries, including the memorable recovery-and-dive by strongside linebacker Jarell Childs off a Justin Tuggle sack-and-fumble on Landry Jones. K-State's first points sparked the 24-19 win at No. 6 Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener, as the Wildcats beat their highest-ranked opponent ever in a true road game.
"We talked about that all week, that if the defense could put some points on the board, we knew it could be a big factor in winning the game," Tuggle said. "Luckily, I came off the edge and sacked Landry and the ball popped out and Jarell jumped on it. We had a good day forcing turnovers."
Of K-State's nation-leading 87 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, 28 have come off interception returns while seven have arrived off fumbles.
K-State has scored 111 of its 399 points (27.9 percent) off turnovers, including 90 of 261 points (34.5 percent) during the Big 12 season.
To put this into perspective, K-State has scored more points off turnovers in the Big 12 season than Kansas has scored total points in its six league games.
"When they turn it over and you get points on it," Snyder said, "that's pretty special."
K-State scored off of turnovers three times in each of is meetings against Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Geno Smith went a NCAA-record 273 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. That changed when nickel back Randall Evans tipped a ball and All-America candidate and senior linebacker Arthur Brown darted underneath it just 14 seconds into the third quarter.
Moments later, Collin Klein found Chris Harper with a 21-yard touchdown strike to make it 38-7 and send many of the 60,101 Mountaineer fans heading toward the exits at Milan Puskar Stadium. K-State went on to score its most points in a game outside the state of Kansas in 102 years.
"You start pressing, it's inevitable," West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We were trying to score 14 points in one play. That's just not very good offensive football."
The Wildcats noticeably step it up in the third quarter, as they've scored 56 of 105 points (53.3 percent) in that quarter off of turnovers alone.
Running back John Hubert scored more points off turnovers in the third quarter (three touchdowns) than the Jayhawks scored in the entire game during a 56-16 on-field session on Oct. 6.
However, the most recent trend has been the Wildcats' penchant to attack from the very first possession in the third quarter. In the last three games, the K-State defense has opened by forcing an interception and the offense has converted each into a touchdown. It's part of the reason K-State outscored West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State 49-10 in the third quarter.
K-State can strike fast. K-State can strike long.
Following Brown's interception of Smith at West Virginia, Klein found the end zone just two plays later.
Against Oklahoma State, Nigel Malone picked off Wes Lunt to halt a potential opening-half scoring drive at the K-State 7-yard line. Klein took the Wildcats 93 yards in eight plays, capping it when he powered one yard into the end zone to zap life from the Oklahoma State sideline.
Among the many things that Snyder preaches to his teams, making a statement in the first five minutes of the each half remains near the top of his list. Of course, he points out that K-State hasn't been perfect all the time. But he also understands that plenty of the other 119 head coaches out there would love to have half of the Wildcats' success in the turnover department.
"Sometimes when turnovers are created, particularly in such good field position, if you can't convert it, with some individuals it probably can be somewhat of a letdown," Snyder said. "Statistics would indicate that they've virtually always been successful off of it, which hasn't been the case every time.
"The short answer is (forcing turnovers and scoring) would create some motivation on both sides of the ball."
Snyder, as usual, is being humble.
K-State has forced more turnovers in the last three games (10) than Oklahoma State has forced (nine) all season. K-State has forced more turnovers in the Big 12 season (19) than Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas have combined for against league opponents.
"It becomes contagious," said senior defensive end Meshak Williams, who alongside fellow senior defensive end Adam Davis have each caused three fumbles to rank among the top 20 nationally. Chapman and free safety Ty Zimmerman are tied for 12th with four interceptions apiece (Zimmerman recorded one interception in a school-record four straight games).
"We talk about it every day in practice -- 'Big plays! Big plays!' -- getting to the ball, pursuing and playing hard," Williams continued. "Big plays will come. You can't rush it. We feel pretty good about that."
Snyder can feel good when the ball is in the hands of his Heisman Trophy frontrunner and the Wildcats offense as well.
As for the last time the K-State offense suffered a turnover?
"Shoot," Tannahill said, pausing. "I don't know."
The Wildcats' last turnover arrived when Tramaine Thompson muffed a punt with K-State holding a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter at Iowa State on Oct. 13. The Cyclones took possession at the K-State 19-yard line.
Zimmerman intercepted Jared Barnett on the next play.
That's one more interception than Klein has thrown in the entire Big 12 season.
Klein's last interception came with less than a minute remaining in the first half against North Texas on Sept. 15. With two interceptions this season, Klein has thrown fewer interceptions than 113 different teams and has gone a Big 12-leading 148 consecutive passes without throwing the ball to the other team.
The K-State offense has committed three turnovers (two Klein interceptions, one Hubert fumble) on 575 offensive plays this season. To put this into perspective, Oklahoma State committed three turnovers in a span of 23 plays from scrimmage during the second quarter last weekend.
Of course, two of K-State's turnovers this season came in the second quarter against the Mean Green. That means the K-State offense has been turnover-free in 34 of 36 quarters, and hasn't committed a turnover in the last 26 -- a span of 414 consecutive plays during 77 offensive possessions.
Snyder can't recall another offense quite like it.
"I can't remember only because I haven't made it a priority to look back and see," he said. "It goes back to not trying to compare us with anything or anyone. It's just about us and trying to be as safe and protective of the football as we possibly can. It's a mindset with our players and there's diligent work done in practice to try to reach that goal."
The Wildcats' four turnovers remains on pace to break the FBS record of eight, which is shared by Clemson in 1940 (2 fumbles lost, 6 interceptions), Miami of Ohio in 1966 (four fumbles lost, four interceptions) and Notre Dame in 2000 (four fumbles lost, four interceptions).
K-State's plus-20 turnover differential is still a ways off the FBS record of plus-36 managed by the 1952 UCLA team, which also holds the FBS record for highest margin of turnovers per game over opponents at 4.0 per contest. K-State currently holds a turnover margin of 2.22 over its foes.
Its plus-20 turnover differential is the best in school history.
And that's enough to make current players, who are fully aware of the Wildcats' defensive dominance between the 1990s and early 2000s, take a step back.
"It makes me feel great to be a part of that," Childs said. "We know we have to get turnovers and we know if we do that we'll come out on top. We come out every day working to get turnovers. It's a great feeling."
And a topic of concern for the rest of the Big 12, including TCU head coach Gary Patterson.
K-State has committed one turnover in the Big 12 season. The Horned Frogs have committed a league-worst 18 in their six games.
"You take a look at the stats and the one thing that sticks out is Kansas State is 111 points to zero in points after turnovers," Patterson said. "If you turn the ball over against them, you give yourself no chance to win the ball game."
It's a poignant conclusion to a dilemma that opposing teams remain unable to solve.
The Wildcats will set up shop again at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday, their latest stop on this traveling tour.
While "The Art of the Turnover 101" remains a big hit in Manhattan and has opened eyes across the college football-watching nation, the course typically grows old to opposing coaches and players.
Little do fans realize when packing stadiums each Saturday that they're actually paying to sit and watch the Wildcats thrive in their own living laboratory. In the history of major college football, there have been few displays quite like it.
Come kickoff, class is in session.