Cyclones not afraid to take and not give

Jeff Stell

ISU head coach Dan McCarney and his staff put a lot of emphasis on turnovers, so it should be no surprise that the Cyclones are leading the Big 12 Conference in turnover margin.

Through five games, the Cyclones have forced 14 turnovers while giving up the ball just five times. The Cyclone secondary has led the way with 10 interceptions, which is good for being 10th nationally.

All of this from a program that ranked last in the Big 12 in turnover margin just three seasons ago.

“You’ve got a chance with anyone if you hold on to it offensively and get some shorter fields for your offense with defensive and kicking game turnovers,” McCarney said. “We talk about it all the time and we rep it and coach it and the kids see how important it is.”

The Cyclones have found success, going 13-4 in their last 17 games, and turnovers have played a part. Over that 17-game stretch, the Cyclones have forced 21 turnovers which have helped them go 7-0 in games decided by 10 points or less.

An example of that was last weekend’s 20-14 win at Missouri. The Cyclones got two key turnovers in the victory – one on an interception at the 1-yard line by Harold Clewis and the other a fumbled kickoff return.

“I have a big chart I bring into our Monday meetings of where we’re at in the Big 12,” McCarney said. “Our goal is to finish in the top five. If we do that, we have the chance to win some of the close games we’re in.”

The Cyclones’ success at causing turnovers comes from consistent practicing of the art of taking the ball away.

“Every day we talk about it in practice when we have the chance to,” McCarney said. “We start our practice every day with a turnover drill where individual groups are going through and trying to knock the ball out.”

Clewis and Jeremy Loyd are tied for the team lead with two interceptions each.

“There’s a difference between fumbles and interceptions,” Clewis said. “A fumble is more of an instinct thing while an interception is about skill and making a play.”

The Cyclones next opponent is the exact opposite as Oklahoma State ranks last in the league in turnover margin.

The Cowboys have gained nine turnovers but have been crippled by giving away 15, including 12 fumbles.

“We are underplaying our ability and obviously turnovers have a lot to do with that,” Cowboy head coach Les Miles said. “Right now we need improvement from the offense so we can get the defense off the field.”

The Cyclones know first-hand how turnovers can kill a team’s chances to win. In their only loss of the season, a 48-14 loss to Nebraska, the Cyclones turned the ball over twice in the first quarter on a pair of interceptions by Seneca Wallace.

Wallace’s first interception was returned for a touchdown, and the second gave the Huskers great field position to drive for another score.

“Turnovers always help especially if you get the ball in good field position,” Cyclone offensive lineman Casey Shelton said. “At the same time, you don’t want to turn the ball over because it gives our defense a short field to have to defend.”