Cornelius Douglas swallowed hard and shook his head as he struggled tried to explain the why of it all.
The senior cornerback had been at the heart of a four-takeaway performance two months ago against Iowa State in the Big 12 opener, when a ball-hawking secondary (three interceptions) and a relentless defensive line (one forced fumble) led the Red Raiders to a 24-13 victory.
On Saturday, though, that performance seemed more like two years ago, as Tech (7-5, 4-5 in Big 12 Conference play) faced questions about its fifth straight game — and sixth in its last seven — without a takeaway following a 52-45 overtime loss to Baylor.
“You really can’t call it,” Douglas said. “It’s just how the ball plays. If a turnover is going to happen, it’s going to happen. Some players are able to make turnovers, and we just weren’t able to capitalize on doing that.”
As a result, Tech couldn’t make wins happen in the season’s second half, losing four of its last five games and needing double overtime against Kansas to secure its only victory in that stretch. The Red Raiders forced three turnovers during a 56-53 triple-overtime win Oct. 20 against TCU that pushed their record to 6-1. But during its 1-4 finish, Tech didn’t have any takeaways while turning the ball over 11 times of its own.
“I think we set a national record of six games without a turnover,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said, “and that’s pretty hard to do.”
Though five consecutive games without a takeaway isn’t believed to be a record — a check of the NCAA’s online record book didn’t reveal the stat — the stretch did put Tech near the bottom of the country, tied for 106th, in turnover margin. The 10 turnovers forced by the Red Raiders this season are second fewest in the nation.
Tech’s defense, of course, made strides this season. The Red Raiders rank 39th in total defense at 366 yards per game. That’s 75 spots better than where the unit finished each of the previous two seasons. But the inability to change momentum with turnovers clearly hampered the team in the season’s second half.
By contrast, Oregon ranks 46th in total defense (382), but the Ducks have forced a nation-leading 38 turnovers, creating short-field situations for its potent offense. It’s the same formula Oklahoma State used last season en route to a Big 12 title: A statistically average defense making plays when they mattered most. The Cowboys had 44 takeaways last year, five more than any other major-college team.
On offense, Tech’s 22 turnovers were tied for 72nd in the country, but they often showed up at the worst times. Of those giveaways, 13 came in Tech’s five losses.
No more was the crippling disparity more apparent than Saturday, when the Red Raiders gave it away four times — and never took one back — in a seven-point overtime loss. It was a game — more than any other this season — that left Tech and its fans to ponder the “what if.”
To comment on this story: