AUSTIN, Texas -- Joseph Randle can't hold on to the ball.
Manny Diaz can't wait to exploit that.
"We always try and identify people that are potential turnovers," Diaz, Texas' defensive coordinator, said.
Well then, the target is squarely on Randle's back, or at least his ball-carrying arm. After being sure-handed in his first 22 games, Randle has fumbled in five of his past six games, losing all five. There was a sixth fumble lost against Savannah State that was negated by a defensive penalty.
Not so coincidentally, Oklahoma State, which had dropped only two games in a 25-game stretch, has lost two of its past six games since Randle's fumbling issues started.
"It's hard to say he's a fumbler," Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken told The Oklahoman. "Joe's cost us at times, though, with fumbles, as [quarterbacks have with] interceptions or I have with poor calls. To put that on him probably is a little strong, but it is something that all of our backs [need to work on]. The bottom line is if you turn the ball over you're not going to win."
That sounds strikingly familiar to what Texas coach Mack Brown has said repeatedly since Texas stopped winning the turnover battle. And in typical Brown fashion, he has been able to put on the bifocals and read the stats to back it up. Since 2009, whenever Texas has won the turnover battle, it is 18-0. When it has lost that turnover battle, it is 3-10.
Count last year's Oklahoma State game among those losses. Texas threw two interceptions and fumbled. Now, there was an unlucky turn for Texas when an apparent interception by Blake Gideon was nullified due to a safety incurred by Brandon Weeden before the throw.
But the point is Oklahoma State has been making its own luck in the turnover category for quite some time. The Cowboys led the country in turnover margin last season, maybe in no small part because they used a double whistle at practice -- as the play ends a whistle blows, then the defense goes after the ball until another whistle ends the scrum.
"Without a doubt our football team knows what creating turnovers does to a football game," Diaz said. "It turns things around and all we have to do is watch Oklahoma State last year."
Or just take a look at the Cowboys' record. They were 12-1 and finished 2011 nationally ranked at No. 3. Those are the lofty aspirations for Texas. Again, the map to reach such heights is not that hard to follow. At least it hasn't been to date, as Texas owns a plus-six in turnover margin.
"Turnovers for us have been huge," Brown said. "It's really important that we continue to protect the ball offensively, because that's where we are a lot better than we were last year at this time."
Texas has lost only one turnover, on a mishandled snap. It did not lead to points. Through three games last season, Texas had given away five turnovers. It finished 59th in turnover margin.
The turnaround in 2012 has been the equal responsibility of the offense and the defense. Quarterback David Ash has become more attune to when to attempt the pass and when to throw the ball away, and as a result he has not thrown a pick in his past 95 attempts.
"That's what happens when you do your job," said Ash, who has become the master of making it simple on the field and just as simple off it.
Likewise, the running backs -- in particular Malcolm Brown -- have not put the ball on the turf. Brown had issues with that early in his career but like Ash has matured and realized the value of the football. Brown also has had a year of dealing with co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and the gloved stick -- affectionately named Muhammad Bali -- that the coach jams at the ball during the turnover circuit in practice.
"That is tough," Malcolm Brown said. "He hits you all over with that thing. He's got me square in the chin. Once he got me up under the facemask. I don't know how he did it. It's tough but it helps us."
"Good teams that strip the football get a lot of guys around the football," he said. "That's the first thing. We have to be sure we don't forget that first part, which is: surround the ball with a lot of people."
The second thing Texas wants is for players to be in the right spots to create those turnovers. Take Steve Edmond against Ole Miss, for instance. The linebacker dropped right into the route, intercepted the pass and rumbled for a touchdown. But, on a wider view of that play, standing right behind him ready for the pick was Demarco Cobbs.
"There are plays for everybody," Diaz said. "Last week the little play fairy just happened to sprinkle play dust on Steve because Steve did what he was supposed to do."
Now Diaz hopes there are a few handfuls of that dust left for any of his defensive players who find themselves near Randle and the ball.