No. 6 Oklahoma State feasting on takeaways
Jamie Blatnick stepped back from his blocker, reached his hands in the air and tipped a pass to himself.
It was a doubly rewarding catch. Not only had he come down with the first interception of his four-year career at No. 6 Oklahoma State, he had also gotten his teammates a step closer to avoiding punishment at practice.
After starting out slow this season, the Cowboys (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) have gone on a turnover binge in their last three games - forcing 14 takeaways to surge up to sixth in the nation in that category. That three-game total is more than 99 Bowl Subdivision teams have all season, and it comes as a result of an intense focus on takeaway every day in practice.
When the Cowboys aren't forcing enough turnovers, they're forced to repeat plays in practice or run afterward.
''Nobody likes running after practice. You're already tired,'' said Blatnick, who also recovered a fumble in OSU's 70-28 rout of Kansas on Saturday.
''It's just one of those things where we work on it so much it just comes naturally.''"
By design, the turnovers have been the hallmark of Oklahoma State's defense under third-year coordinator Bill Young. He set up a system of rewards for getting the ball away from the offense, encouraging a ''ball hawk'' mentality and preaching that players should always go for the ''rip, strip and pick.''
''No question about it, we love the takeaways,'' Young said.
Young had been disappointed after the Pokes had only forced a total of three turnovers through the first two games - lopsided wins against Louisiana-Lafayette and Arizona - but held out hope that his players would come across a ''gusher'' soon.
That's just what happened, starting with a six-takeaway performance against Tulsa. They followed up by picking off three passes and forcing a fumble in the second half against then-No. 8 Texas A&M, fueling a rally from a 17-point halftime deficit.
After an off week, it carried over into the Kansas game - with two fumbles and two interceptions before the starters were taken out of the game with the score at halftime already 56-7.
''That's something that the coaches stress every day - turnovers,'' said defensive end Richetti Jones, who forced one of the two fumbles by stripping the ball from quarterback Jordan Webb.
''That's all they talk about is turnovers.''
Markelle Martin punched the ball free from running back Tony Pierson for the first takeaway, and Brodrick Brown had the other interception - giving the Cowboys a Big 12-best 10 on the season.
''I don't really think it's the style of defense. I think it's the coaching,'' Blatnick said. ''We've got to get turnovers. Practice is turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.''
It paid off last year, when OSU ranked fifth in the nation with 34 turnovers forced in 13 games while setting a school record for wins and claiming a share of the Big 12 South title for the first time.
Oklahoma State is right back in that mix this year, heading into a game Saturday at No. 22 Texas (4-1, 1-1).
''If they keep taking it away, that certainly gives us a chance,'' coach Mike Gundy said. ''I like how our players are tackling. I think they're hitting hard and forcing some turnovers and then our coverage has slowly but surely over the last couple of years gotten better.''
All the takeaways - nine interceptions and five fumbles in the last three games - are also helping to fuel Oklahoma State's already potent offense. The Cowboys turned each of the four turnovers, all in Kansas territory, into touchdowns on Saturday.
''We had a short field a lot of the day, and that's huge with an offense like ours,'' quarterback Brandon Weeden said. ''That helps us out a lot.''
The Cowboys now lead the nation with 51.4 points per game.
''When you've got our offense and you put them back on the field and fatigue their defense, look out,'' Young said. ''Because they're going to score.''