Heading into the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford, Oklahoma State led the nation with 42 turnovers created by their defense. But is this a skill? Can a defense consistently force turnovers? We searched for any statistical analysis that could answer this question. The most complete study was done by Bill Barnwell at Grantland. He found that turnovers in the first 5 games of the NFL season is weakly correlated with turnovers in the remaining 11 games (correlation coefficient of 0.14). We used this study in our Fiesta Bowl preview to suggest that a large turnover total is not predictive of future turnovers.
So how did the Fiesta Bowl turn out? In the 1st quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert intercepted an Andrew Luck pass. It’s reasonable to argue that the Cowboys forced this turnover, as Gilbert had the speed and agility to step in front of the Stanford receiver. In the 3rd quarter, Oklahoma State recovered a Stanford fumble. The replay clearly showed that Andrew Luck had a bad exchange with Geoff Meinken. In no way did Oklahoma State force this turnover. The defense only capitalized on a mistake by the offense. Stanford had 2 turnovers the entire game, nothing near the almost 4 turnovers per game the Oklahoma State defense had received this season. It’s not that Oklahoma State didn’t try. On two catches in the 2nd half, Stanford receiver Griff Whalen had a horde of defenders standing him up and trying to rip the ball away. No luck.
At the end of regulation, Stanford missed a field goal to win the game, and Oklahoma State won in overtime. The outcome supports The Power Rank’s assertion that Oklahoma State was the better team.
But luck was also involved, as Oklahoma State converted a critical field goal after the Stanford fumble in the 3rd quarter. Looking ahead to next year, analytics suggests that randomness plays a huge role in how many turnovers a defense forces. No matter how much they practice creating turnovers, don’t be surprised if Oklahoma State doesn’t force 44 turnovers next year. It might be a more difficult season for the Cowboys.
For more content, find The Power Rank on Twitter.
—Can a defense force turnovers? A Stanford, Oklahoma State preview.
—About The Power Rank.
—College football’s incredibly slow progress towards a playoff.
—The Power Rank featured on KALX Spectrum, the science and technology show on UC Berkeley student radio.