Eleven Adjustments #8: Obsess Over Turnovers October 23, 2012
Turnovers are football. Of the top-25 teams in Turnover Margin in college football, only SMU (3-4) has a losing record. The other 24 teams all have winning records, with 20 of them having 2 losses or less. And of the bottom 25 teams in Turnover Margin (including us at #95), only Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Maryland have winning records.
You turn over the ball a lot, and your defense doesn’t return the favor, you lose. Doesn’t matter if you’re 15th or 85th in total offense – you’re going to lose more than you win if you can’t hang onto the ball or force some turnovers. How is Northwestern 6-2 despite having the #67 offense and the #70 defense? 15 takeaways and only seven giveaways. Illinois, you ask? 13 takeaways and 18 giveaways. Eighteen!
Man, this really should have been point #1. For the last 10 seasons. Our turnover margin rank since 2003:
This is one of those times where I look up a statistic and get so violently angry that I have to walk away from the computer. I’ll return later tonight to finish this. And I guarantee that at some point in the next few hours I’ll legitimately consider pulling a Brad Stevens and quitting my job so that some day I can take over the program that I love. It’s like one of those dreams where you feel like you’re the only person who knows something, and you’re running around trying to get people to listen, and nobody seems to hear you. I need a couple hours.
I took four hours. I still can’t understand it. I want to walk the campus and tell everyone I see “if we could figure out the turnover epidemic we could have a solid football program in Champaign!” I can see myself in front of the Union, Mad Max style (what’s up, early 90′s UIUC peeps), taking a bullhorn and telling students as they walk to class “turnovers are the reason! fix the turnovers we fix the world!”
I should move on to my point, but I just can’t yet. Ten seasons AND WE AVERAGED 89TH IN THE COUNTRY IN TURNOVER MARGIN. 21st worst! That’s an AVERAGE over TEN SEASONS. That has to be the worst average finish in all of football. I doubt anyone comes close.
Why doesn’t anyone do anything to fix this? Why is this not the #1 obsession of everyone associated with Illini football? Change zero players, change zero coaches, do nothing different in the last ten years except find a way to fix the turnover problem, and we probably win 15 more games. Just by taking care of the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on D.
Turnovers are football. And we’re worse at it than Idaho, San Jose State, Akron, Vandy, Wazzu, Troy, Kansas, Middle Tennessee State – you name a team, and we’re worse over the last 10 seasons. How is this not the #1 thing every Illini fan obsesses over until it’s fixed?
OK, sorry, lost my mind for a bit there. So many of my dejected walks out of Memorial Stadium result from one thing, and I really can’t keep it together when I talk about it. So now I’ll talk about it some more.
Seven games this season, and 18 turnovers. Our opponent this weekend has four turnovers in seven games (0.57 turnovers per game). We have eighteen turnovers in seven games (2.57 turnovers per game). We can’t stop giving the ball to the other team, and because of it, we can’t even compete.
Louisiana Tech only had 75 more yards of offense against us. But we turned the ball over SIX TIMES and lost by 28. Penn State only outgained us by 22 yards. But we handed them the ball THREE TIMES (and switched a field goal to a touchdown with a penalty) and lost by 28.
Does it work the other way? Sure does. Western Michigan actually outgained us in the opener. 259 yards to 248 yards. But they turned the ball over four times to our one, Ashante Williams turned one of those interceptions into six points, and we won easily, 24-7.
Turnovers are football. And we’re just the worst at it. If I’m the coach during this long leadup to the Indiana game, that’s 80% of my emphasis. We HAVE to take care of the football. And we HAVE to start forcing turnovers of our own. (And I HAVE to stop using all caps.) The offensive line is young and struggling with injuries? We could make it work if we’d stop turning the ball over. Defense is susceptible to tailbacks and tight ends sneaking into the flat? Wouldn’t matter if we could force some turnovers.
I don’t care what it takes, this ten year (20 year?) epidemic has to stop. Fix just one thing and we can start winning football games. Just one thing. That’s all I’m asking tonight. Obsess over the Turnover Margin statistic, find a way to beat it, and you can win football games.
Ten years! AVERAGE finish of 89th! Is this thing on?