There's an axiom in football that says the team with the most takeaways usually winds up winning the game.
Or put another way, the team with the most turnovers usually loses.
Whatever the case, UTSA coach Larry Coker knows his team is on the wrong side of the ledger three games into its season.
The Roadrunners, who finished with a plus-14 in takeaways last year, are a minus-4 heading into their Conference USA debut against UTEP at 7 p.m. Saturday in El Paso.
"Everybody we've played has done a good job of forcing turnovers," Coker said. "We're going to really work hard at protecting the ball. Again, we've had turnovers the last three games and haven't created turnovers. We need to change that around."
UTSA (1-2) has lost to Oklahoma State (56-35) and Arizona (38-13) after beating New Mexico 21-13 on the road in its opener.
UTEP (1-1) beat New Mexico State 42-21 last week after opening the season with a 42-35 overtime loss to New Mexico in El Paso.
"I just told our guys we've got to play our best game yet to have an opportunity to win," Coker said. "If we do that, we have a chance. This is Game 4 for us and it's time now for us to take that next step.
"We're on the road for the third time in four weeks. We know that. We've got to be hungry and ready to go."
UTSA has had first-quarter turnover in each of first three games
UTSA has a total of five turnovers – three interceptions and two fumbles – in its first three games. The Roadrunners didn't get their first takeaway of the season until freshman safety Michael Egwuagu recovered a fumble against Arizona with 26 seconds left in last week’s game.
Last season, UTSA was a plus-8 in takeaways while jumping out to a 3-0 start. The Roadrunners had one interception and one fumble in their first three games, compared to 10 turnovers by their opponents.
Things have been markedly different so far this season.
UTSA has had a first-quarter turnover in each of its first three games. The string started on the Roadrunners' sixth offensive play of the season, when New Mexico cornerback SaQwan Edwards returned an Evans Okotcha fumble 45 yards for a touchdown.
Oklahoma State intercepted a pass by Eric Soza at the UTSA 41 in the first quarter, but the UTSA defense stiffened and forced a punt. Cowboys linebacker Ryan Simmons, a Steele graduate, intercepted Soza with 2:33 left in the half, setting up a four-play, 32-yard scoring drive that put OSU up 35-7.
The Roadrunners had two turnovers against Arizona last week, with each leading to Wildcat TDs.
"We can't get down, especially against good teams," Coker said. "We can't get down early in the first quarter, like we have, because of turnovers. We've got to protect the football. If we do that, we'll be fine."
UTSA offensive coordinator Kevin Brown stressed ball security more than usual in practice and meetings this week.
"We've lost the turnover battle in all three games," Brown said. "We turned it over a couple of times last week. We've got to win the turnover battle. I know it's something we did a year ago and it showed in the win-loss record. We've got to do a better job taking care of the ball. The kids know that. They've bought in and they're working hard at it."
Rogers: 'We need to get our offense the ball'
UTSA finished with 15 turnovers last season, compared to 29 by the Roadrunners' opponents. The Roadrunners lost eight fumbles and had seven passes intercepted, and their defense recovered 16 fumbles and had 13 interceptions.
"If you look at last year, we were up there in the charts leading in turnovers for a while," said junior defensive end Cody Rogers, a Brandeis graduate. "This year, we're sitting with just one and we're going into Week 4 already. It's kind of hurt us a bit. We need to get our offense the ball. That's the most important thing."
Junior defensive tackle Richard Burge concurred with Rogers.
"We're going to need them to win games," Burge said, referring to forcing turnovers. "Bottom line. We haven't been getting them. This week in practice, there's been a premium put on them. We've had to do a couple of circuits, we call them, that emphasize that. We've emphasized that throughout our team. It's been a big part of this week."
Defense coordinator Neal Neathery turned up the heat on his players in practice this week, putting them through drills that emphasized stripping the ball from ball carriers.
"A ton of our success last year was that we were really good in that (turnover) margin," Neathery said. "We talk a lot about it and practice it hard as a defense. We've stepped it up this week. We're just waiting for us to break out of a slump on that. We've really been in a drought."
The Roadrunners played in the Western Athletic Conference for one season last year before moving to C-USA this summer.
UTSA is 13-12 since kicking off its first season in 2011. The Roadrunners play Houston in a nonconference game at 3 p.m. next Saturday at the Alamodome.