COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter just can’t figure it out.
He lectures and harps on the importance of forcing turnovers, but they’ve been few and far between for his defense.
He won’t stop focusing on it, especially this week as the Aggies meet No. 17 Kansas State. The Wildcats rank in the top 10 in the nation in turnover margin while the Aggies have just seven takeaways, 118th in the country.
“That is kind of shocking to me,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever coached a team that has had that few this late into the season.”
Kansas State has three times as many takeaways with 21. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both teams Texas A&M has lost to this season, have 51 combined.
The Sooners had three interceptions and recovered one fumble in their 41-25 win over Texas A&M on Saturday, while the Aggies got just one takeaway. The most frustrating part for DeRuyter is that his team had several chances for more.
He pointed to instances against the Sooners when cornerback Lionel Smith and linebacker Charlie Thomas both had opportunities to grab interceptions and simply couldn’t hang on to the ball. If Smith could have caught his, DeRuyter believed the path was clear for him to return it for a touchdown.
“To me the difference in the ball game was when Oklahoma had the opportunities for interceptions with tipped balls they caught them and we didn’t,” DeRuyter said. “If we make those plays I truly believe it’s a different ball game. We’ve got to make those plays.”
The lack of production isn’t for lack of attention. The Aggies practice forcing fumbles and grabbing interceptions every day.
“Anytime the offense runs the ball or catches the ball we’re talking to our guys all the time about stripping the football out,” DeRuyter said. “If you talk to any one of our defensive players I think that’s their mentality.”
Since the results aren’t there, DeRuyter and his staff plan to work even more this week to remind players of the importance of forcing turnovers. He believes they may be struggling in the area because of the youth of some of his defenders.
“For younger players it’s not the most natural thing because they’re worried about their assignment and just getting a guy down,” DeRuyter said. “When guys are more comfortable they know that they don’t have to just get the guy down, they can go strip the football. That’s what we’ve got to get to.”
DeRuyter thinks that a key to forcing turnovers is playing physical. Five-foot-9 sophomore defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., who made his first start last week, is a perfect example the kind of player they’re looking for to turn things around.
“My whole life I was always the smaller guy so I had to come with more tools than some of the other guys,” he said. “Physicality and aggressiveness is something that I try to have more so than others.”
Along with being among the worst in the country in takeaways, the Aggies also rank near the bottom in turnover margin after losing 17 turnovers this season. The Wildcats rank eighth in the country in that category with just 10 turnovers lost to go with their 21 takeaways.
Of course, in order for the turnover margin to improve, the offense has to help out the defense by limiting its interceptions and fumbles. In their four losses this year, the Aggies have lost 13 turnovers while the defense has forced three in those games.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill knows success this week against Kansas State will most likely come down to turnovers.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” he said. “I think everyone knows that. If you turn the ball over four times on the road against a top 10 opponent, it’s not going to be good. The key we have to focus on this week is being clean, focusing on the details and not turning the ball over.”