It’s no secret turnovers have been a massive issue for the Kansas football team. And it’s been that way for quite some time.
The Jayhawks have held the regrettable distinctions of…
- Leading all of FBS with 36 turnovers in 2016
- Committing two or more turnovers in 16 straight games
- Failing to win the turnover battle in each of their last nine road games
KU coach David Beaty has spoken at length about the turnover issues several times in the past.
He was asked about them again at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and noted that while the road-losing streak, which sits at a whopping 41 games, has been out of his mind, the turnover issues certainly have not been.
“Well, I’ve said all the other things. I’ve already talked to you about every drill that could have been created. Anything that’s ever been done, we’ve done, and we’ve done it twice on Sunday,” Beaty said. “We’ve studied with the Cowboys, we’ve studied with the Rams, we’ve studied with Seattle. I mean, just everywhere we can go trying to prevent that, right? That’s the death of you in a football program.”
Putting aside the 22 interceptions Kansas threw last year — a mark that ranked 126th out of 128 teams — and the four that new quarterback Peyton Bender has already thrown this year — no quarterback in FBS has more — the 14 fumbles KU lost last season were a massive issue, and it’s one the team has attempted to thwart with just about everything, even clothing.
“It’s a lot more difficult than people think to keep that ball up high and tight. But it’s a learned trait,” Beaty said. “When we toss them a pair of socks, they’ve got to tuck it. Doesn’t matter what we throw them, that thing better be tucked. Wrist has to be above the elbow, back nose has to be covered, and that front nose ought to be gripped. That ball never comes away.”
As amusing as it might seem, the players have at least taken to the strategy.
Junior wideout Jeremiah Booker, one of the team’s captains, says he understands the reasoning for the drill, which Beaty reminds the players of during every practice.
Booker has also caught himself practicing his ball security outside the football complex, namely when his instincts as an athlete start to take over.
“High and tight. It’s with anything and everything, whether it’s a pencil or something,” Booker said. “When I’m relaxing, not really, but if I’m rushing to class, I catch myself like (clutching) my water bottle or something.”
Fellow wideout Steven Sims, who was limited in the Jayhawks’ last game with a right-ankle injury, is another who has taken to this strategy, though he’s hardly been part of the problem.
Sims has been charged with one lost fumble some 20-plus games into his college career, which came on a late drive of a 43-7 blowout loss to Memphis back in 2016.
With the game already out of reach and KU having already committed five turnovers on the day, Sims caught a pass down the left sideline and dove for a first down. At the same time, a Memphis defender dove at Sims and managed to knock the ball loose about an instant before he hit the ground.
Regardless, Sims is as sure-handed as just about anyone on the team.
That’s in part why he’s back returning punts this year. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who handled the punt return duties for much of 2016, is not back with the program, but he had already been removed from that spot on several occasions after a host of lost fumbles and muffed punts.
As for Sims, he takes ball security pretty seriously.
“Yeah they’ll throw anything at you, a water bottle, anything they can find. You have to look it in and tuck it like it’s a football,” Sims said. “I’ll always hold my imaginary ball. Like I’ll be doing moves and things while I’m walking through a crowd. I’ll be juking students and things like that. That’s just how I am. I’m working on my game 24-7.”