Texas intent on boosting turnover margin during spring

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas fans think they've seen Will Muschamp at his most bombastic.

Sure, "Coach Boom" had some combustible moments last season along the sideline after sacks and big third-down stops. But Muschamp kept some of his emotion under wraps at times because his defense didn't do a good job of forcing turnovers during his first season.

The Longhorns came only a couple of seconds away from challenging for the BCS championship. Their performance was amazing considering they were only plus-2 in turnover margin to rank 49th nationally.

It might be the most curious statistic of all last season, considering the Longhorns had the best pass rush in the nation with a nation-leading 47 sacks and led the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense.
Even with those factors, the Longho
rns struggled with an inability to make big defensive plays all season. Texas ranked 104th nationally and worst in the Big 12 with only 16 turnovers forced last season.

The most critical play of the season was safety Blake Gideon's drop of an interception in the final seconds against Texas Tech. On the following play after the reprieve, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree hooked up on the game-winning 28-yard touchdown that led to Texas' only loss.

"We had double-digit opportunities for more turnovers last year that we just missed," Muschamp said. "We've got to do a better job this season."

Texas players are learning strip techniques and punching the ball from their first workouts this spring as they attempt to improve their turnover-producing skills.

"That's something that's new this year," senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. "Coach Muschamp is trying to coach that. He felt that it was a mistake last year that he didn't coach trying to force turnovers. We're starting now, and hopefully it will turn over for us once we go into the season."

Muschamp's stated goal is to force three turnovers per game this season. The extra attention has already gotten into the heads of returning players who remain embarrassed at last year.

"We had about 30 that we let get away from us," junior cornerback Chykie Brown said. "I know myself that I let about four go. And (sophomore safety) Earl (Thomas) had about six."

Turnover margin usually is a pretty good determinant of overall team success. BCS title game participants Oklahoma and Florida were 1-2 nationally in turnover margin at plus-23 and plus-22. Texas had the second-lowest turnover ratio of the 10 teams that made BCS bowls, ahead of only Cincinnati at minus-8.

"For us to be plus-2 in turnover ratio as a team, and you have teams like Oklahoma that were plus-23 and Florida that was plus-22, it was amazing we did as well as we did," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "The defense is motivated by those numbers to come up with more turnovers, and we want to continue to take care of the ball on offense."

Muschamp has also made highlight films to show the plays that each defensive player made and those he didn't. And each workout this spring is designed to bolster competitiveness and game readiness.

"We had a lot of opportunities to get turnovers that we didn't capitalize on last season," Texas senior defensive end-linebacker Sergio Kindle said. "We've just got to make it happen when it comes this season."

For his part, Muschamp isn't over-analyzing the performance of other teams as a way to increase Texas' ability to create turnovers.

"I've been a part of defenses that have led the nation in turnovers," Muschamp said. "I know that it comes and there are times the ball bounces your way and times when it doesn't. You've just got to keep playing, keep swinging and eventually the ball is going to bounce our way.

"We've just got to do a better job of emphasizing turnovers and making the kids more cognizant of situations to punch the ball loose and finish plays."

But Kindle said the Longhorns should be held accountable for their struggles last season as they try to improve for the upcoming season.

"I wouldn't say it's luck. We just didn't get it done," Kindle said. "When the ball hits you in the hands, there's no reason to drop it, or if you are picking up a fumble and miss it. We've got to get better.

"I'm hoping we can force them better and then get the other team hesitant about doing things where they start making mistakes on their own. Those are things that we really need to capitalize on if and when we get the chance."