Turnovers, penalties will play a major factor in K-State’s remaining four games

K-State linebacker Jonathan Truman catches a fumble stripped by linebacker Dakorey Johnson from Oklahoma State wide receiver Brandon Sheperd on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. K-State won 48-14. (Emily DeShazer | The Collegian)

Turnover margin is the “service engine light” of college football statistics. It’s important, but it doesn’t really become an issue until it stops a team from getting where they want to go.

That’s not exactly how K-State head coach Bill Snyder framed it Tuesday at the team’s weekly press conference. However, he did confirm the importance of staying on the positive end of the turnover battle as well as avoiding penalties.

“I believe that turnovers and penalties are a major factor in any ballgame that you play,” Snyder said. “It is very critical, you always go into a ball game feeling that. That’s one of the major factors of determining how well you play and the outcome of the game.”

Snyder-coached teams have always been known for one thing, and that’s playing fundamentally sound football. Last season was somewhat of an anomaly in terms of penalties. The Wildcats started -9 in the turnover column before battling back to even by season’s end.

This year’s team made it a focus to better that outcome. After starting -2 through the first four games, K-State is now +6 and ranked in the top 25 in turnover margin. Senior quarterback Jake Waters hasn’t thrown an interception since mid-September, and the most recent lost fumble wasn’t so recent — Oct. 4 against Texas Tech.

When asked what goes into a successful turnover margin, Snyder didn’t have to dig too deep for an answer.

“Not turning the ball over, obviously, then gaining some turnovers on the other side,” he said. “We have been reasonably productive at not turning over the ball, but we have not created a substantial number of turnovers. That has elevated (in importance) a bit.”

K-State has also been productive at limiting penalties. The Wildcats are the third-least penalized team in the country, averaging just 3.38 penalties a game. That’s just 27 penalties on the season. In comparison, Baylor has already topped 80 flags in eight games. In all, K-State has committed three or fewer penalties six times this year.

“The onus is on us to (continue to) do that,” Snyder said.

As the No. 9 Wildcats (7-1, 5-0) prepare to travel to Fort Worth, Texas to face No. 7 TCU (7-1 4-1) Saturday, there’s much more to discuss than just the Horned Frogs’ high-powered offense and how K-State plans to stop it.

Turnovers and penalties top the list.

“They lead the nation in turnovers,” Snyder said. “It’s not just interceptions, (either). They’re a very good team, because of the experience that they have, at being able to create turnovers, to create fumbles.”

The Horned Frogs have been stellar when it comes to turnover margin. They average nearly two takeaways a game with 1.88. In their comeback 31-30 win on the road against West Virginia this past Saturday, they forced the Mountaineers into five turnovers.

Despite their success in forcing turnovers, they fall nearly dead last in penalties. The Horned Frogs rank 98th in the nation at just over seven flags a game and they have 57 total penalties.

“Turnovers (and penalties) are huge,” senior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “We’d love to obviously get as many turnovers as we can. We just understand that it comes down to how we prepare and how we execute our game plan.”

As unattractive as these two stat columns are — just as frustrating as that orange light seemingly embedded into your dashboard is — they can change the outcome of a game. If recent meetings between K-State and TCU indicate one thing, it’s that they will Saturday.

“If indeed these are two somewhat evenly-balanced teams, then they’ll be very critical,” Snyder said.

Notes from Tuesday:

· Snyder praised TCU junior quarterback Trevone Boykin, who — at least statistically — has been the best Big 12 signal caller this season.

“He (Trevone Boykin) has been exceptional throughout the course of the season. He struggled a little bit last week, but prior to that he had 850-900 yards total in offense in the previous two games, which was kind of reminiscent to the quarterback of the University of Texas (Tyrone Swoopes) coming in his previous two games having roughly 800 yards of total offense. The system fits Boykin. He is a very gifted athlete.”

· K-State junior cornerback Morgan Burns believes his team is ready for the road ahead, which includes three games against top-25 teams.

“I think that the whole team has accepted the challenge, we are playing some really tough teams coming up,” he said. “I do not think that we are nervous about that. I think that if we have come to this point, playing teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, even though their records are not great, they are still great teams that have had a lot of success in the past. I think that if we overlook any team in the Big 12, they can beat you on any given day. I am excited for this stretch, the challenge that we have and the opportunity we have to do something really special.”

· K-State junior defensive lineman Terrell Clinkscales has made a positive first impression amongst his teammates.

“He is just a big body and he brings a lot of physicality,” junior defensive tackles Travis Britz said. “He is very hard to move. A guy like him, he can really help out the middle and take up some double teams. He keeps improving. He will be a great player for us.”