Check The Tape – Turnover Fairy Edition November 23, 2012
I feel the need to clarify some things about our friend the Turnover Fairy. I’ve talked about her for several years now, so on Twitter, it’s become a thing. Nearly every time our defense gets a turnover, someone tweets “Turnover Fairy” to me. I do like that.
But not every turnover is gifted by the Turnover Fairy. Just most. Let me explain.
The Turnover Fairy gets her hand in most every fumble recovery. Once the ball is out, recovering that ball is mostly luck. It’s an oblong ball that bounces funny, so while teaching your defensive players to chase every play just in case a ball pops out can help your fumble recovery rate increase a little bit, it’s still mostly a 50/50 thing. Sometimes the ball pops out and Team A recovers – sometimes Team B recovers. Over the course of a season, it mostly balances out.
Unless the Turnover Fairy gets involved, waving her magic wand and making sure not a single fumble bounces your way. 50/50? HA! She scoffs at your idea of justice.
Last year she famously chose Michigan (I say “famously” because the college blogosphere was alive in the offseason with debates about Michigan’s fumbles in 2011). Michigan fumbled 19 times on the season last year and only lost 6 of those fumbles. And on defense, Michigan forced 25 fumbles and recovered 20 of them. Stunning statistics, really. 33 of the 44 fumbles in Michigan games bounced their way. It’s a 50/50 deal, and they hit 75/25.
Care to see the flipside of that? This year, Illinois’ defense has forced 26 fumbles, one more than Michigan forced last year. How many have we recovered? 10.
This year, Illinois’ offense has coughed up the ball 21 times. And they’ve lost 15 of those 21 fumbles. 31 of the 47 fumbles in Illini games have gone against us. Not as crazy as Michigan’s 75% above, but 34% is no joke. And it reveals that the Turnover Fairy hates us.
Please note that while it’s hard to quantify, there is some skill in recovering fumbles. The better teams are usually better at it – swarming defenses seem to always fall on the ball. But still, those “skill” areas can move the needle a few percentage points. Michigan didn’t get to 75% because they were awesome, nor did Illinois get to 34% because we’re awful. Really, it’s not that. It’s simply that when the ball hits the ground, the defense has a better chance of recovery (usually many more players around the ball). So when you take a teams percentage of fumbles lost and percentage of fumbles gained, it usually averages out around 50%.
Here’s what I mean. Remember the play that broke the Louisiana Tech game wide open? Justin Green is blocking on a punt return, the ball hits his leg, and Louisiana Tech recovers in the endzone for a touchdown?
Well we had a similar play last week. Not near the goal line, but the ball hit a Purdue player in the leg. Right there it’s anyone’s ball. If it bounces one way, it’s ours – if it bounces the other way, it’s there’s. Completely up to the oblong ball at that point.
Yep. The ball bounced directly to a Purdue player. Because of course it did. Two “ball hit the leg of someone on the punt team” plays this season, neither went our way.
OK, time to disclaim, because I know many of you are already fully down the Misinterpretation Highway and ready to claim that I’m blaming turnover luck on a 2-9 season. Of course that’s not what I’m doing. (“THEN WHY EVEN BRING IT UP BLOG BOY?”) Because it’s a mystery. The “make your own luck” mystery. Why are we so bad at it? As any realistic Michigan fan (both of them) and they’ll tell you that nobody gets to 75% without an enormous amount of luck. And this year they’re back to normal – 15 of the 29 fumbles in Michigan games have gone their way. Right around 50%. As it is with the majority of teams. So why are we so bad at it? “Turnover Fairy hates us” is the only answer I have.
And it’s not just fumbles. The majority of interceptions are not the work of the turnover fairy. They’re bad passes and great defensive plays. But she does have a hand in some of them – the deflected pass. Once that pass is up in the air, it’s up to her where it deflects. Sometimes it’s straight into the turf. Sometimes it’s right to a safety or a cornerback. Sometimes it’s to an offensive lineman who falls over the goal line on a two point conversion. Sometimes it’s directly into the air and right back to the receiver in stride in the second overtime at Michigan to force a third overtime where we lost.
Just think of the possibilities here. The only place this deflected pass could fall would be directly behind him. He’d have to only get a tiny piece of the ball and have it not glance to the left or to the right for this one to fall incomplete. Because Ashante Williams is right there.
Would these plays have made a difference in the game? Probably, but maybe not. In a three point game, turnovers like that (especially the muffed punt) can really be the difference.
Would these plays and others this season, leading to our 2-9 record, have made a difference? No. Just look at our offensive numbers and see that without the ability to consistently move the ball, this team was going nowhere.
But why does the Turnover Fairy have to add insult to injury? Why do the 50/50 balls become 34/66 in our hands? You can’t tell me it’s just “bad football players don’t recover fumbles”. There are lots of bad football teams that get every bounce (Minnesota 2008) and good football teams that get none (Oklahoma a few years ago).
Anyone remember the Rose Bowl? The forced fumble caught in the air. The fumble the bounced directly to Joe McKnight. No, we weren’t winning that game. But why the insults, Turnover Fairy?
A winning football program at Illinois is hard enough. The Turnover Fairy turning her back on us just makes it that much harder.