Turnovers change games. Turnovers win games.
That's why they represent the river card in this crazy game of poker. The river is the fifth and final card flipped over by the dealer, allowing the player to assemble the best five-card hand from the seven total cards.
The river card changes games. The river card wins games.
Mack Brown said this week that, more than anything else, the difference in Texas last year to this year is turnover margin.
In 2010, the Longhorns were minus-1 in the category, 116th in the country and a distant last in the Big 12. Through four games this season, UT is plus-1.5, which is seventh in the nation. It has 11 takeaways and five giveaways – and it's 4-0 entering Saturday's Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl.
In a rather galling home loss to UCLA the week before last year's game against Oklahoma, the Longhorns turned the ball over five times.
Then in Dallas, the Horns had an interception and a fumble against OU. The Sooners, meanwhile, did not turn over the ball. And they won, 28-20.
It's rarely a coincidence, this battle-of-the-turnovers quantifier. The past five winners of the OU-Texas game have finished with fewer turnovers. In four of the past five meetings, the winner did not turn over the ball at all.
“That's one of the key factors of winning this game,” Sooners quarterback Landry Jones said. “The team with fewer turnovers, it usually turns out pretty well for them.”
Jones has thrown 10 touchdowns in four games, but he also has five interceptions and he has thrown at least one pick in the past three games. He will have to be aware this week of new UT defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's unpredictable blitzing patterns and schemes.
The Longhorns have forced three first-quarter turnovers in two of their wins, as opposing offenses are trying to settle against the varied defensive looks.
“Their coordinator does a great job of mixing stuff up and kind of keeping you on your heels,” Jones said, “but I think it comes down to your preparation and how you prepare and how well you're going to take care of the ball and things like that.
“But, yeah, I think you can credit the way that they're playing and the way that they're disguising stuff to some of the turnovers they've been creating.”
The Sooners have forced 10 turnovers this season, seven interceptions and three fumbles. Tom Wort returned a fumble for a touchdown last week against Ball State. And then there was Captain Takeaway, rover Tony Jefferson, who made three interceptions on three consecutive Ball State possessions. A fourth pick went in and out of his grasp.
The three interceptions, two deep in BSU territory, turned into three offensive touchdowns for OU in the 62-6 romp.
“It's big to have momentum,” Jefferson said. “Turnovers are just as good as big gains on offense, or even better.
“When you get a turnover, it's completely like towering over the opposing offense.”
WHERE OU-TEXAS GAMES ARE DECIDED
Turnovers decide many football games, the Red River Rivalry included. Here's a look at the role turnovers played in the last five OU-Texas outcomes.