How UK became one of the best in college football at creating turnovers


Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson & safety Mike Edwards celebrate a broken up pass during the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 24-20. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

As UK defeated Eastern Michigan Saturday to become 4-1, their turnover margin was also elevated to +7 overall, making them one of the top playmaking defenses in the nation. Against EMU, they recovered a fumble and intercepted two passes, only giving up one possession due to a turnover.

“It helps us out a lot, especially when the offense isn’t moving the ball as much as they need to be,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said.

Video: Stephen Johnson full post-game interview

Mike Edwards, arguably one of the best turnover creators in the SEC, now has three interceptions through five games. He picked off the hail mary to close out the game against the Eagles to give him that third interception.

“Last year, Stoops told me at the Louisville game to just bat the ball down,” Edwards said. “[Tonight] I was like ‘I’m about to get the ball.’”

Edwards went on to say that from the very beginning of the offseason, creating turnovers has been a focal point of the defense, and head coach Mark Stoops agrees.

“Our ball security is the first thing we do offensively and defensively. In our circuits, we try to create turnovers, and guys are making plays,” Stoops said.

The other “guy making plays” for the Cats is cornerback Derrick Baity, who has a pick on the year that he earned against South Carolina earlier this season.

“We [Baity and I] kind of battle, see who gets more turnovers and stuff like that,” Edwards said. “I love when he intercepts anybody, really. We try to battle each other out, that’s how you compete.”

Edwards said that the two playmaking defensive backs don’t have any running bets, but they do compete for bragging rights, Edwards said.

There are two parts to having a massive turnover margin, though. The offense has to hold on to the ball to make the defense’s turnover creation worth something.

“I think the offense has done a really nice job of protecting the football. Stephen [Johnson]’s done a good job,” Stoops said.

Last season, holding on to the ball was an issue for Johnson, as he became known for fumbling the ball often. At this point last year, UK was -5 in turnover margin, a far cry from their play this year.

This season, his first fumble came against EMU, five games into the season. The offense has only coughed up the ball four times in five games, one of the better turnover rates in the nation.

If they keep playing like they have, teams will be hard pressed to take the ball from the Cats more than it gets taken from them.