An interesting story today from Rivals.com, polling various college coaches on what they feel is the most important statistic.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian is among those quoted, and he sided with a lot of his colleagues in pointing to turnover margin. Here’s what Sarkisian said:
“You look at the teams every year that have double-digit turnover margin, they all are bowl teams and winners, conference champs. … It’s an amazing stat. You have to place an emphasis on the football. And your defense has to tackle the football. And you call defenses that have an opportunity to create turnovers. It’s one thing to stop people; it’s another to create a turnover to create a short field for your offense.”
Nothing really new, obviously — coaches, fans, analysts, just about everybody, has cited the importance of turnover margin for years.
And its value was pretty evident in the Pac-10 last year as the top two teams, Oregon and Stanford, were tied in turnover margin at plus-13, while UCLA — among the most disappointing teams — was at the bottom at minus-11. UW was right in the middle at plus-two, pretty consistent with a 7-6 record.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to break down UW’s turnover numbers the last two years, encompassing Sarkisian’s tenure here, and see what role they’ve played.
What the numbers reveal only reinforces Sarkisian’s point —- to a point.
When UW has lost the turnover battle the last two years, the Huskies are 2-7. When it has had the same amount of turnovers as opponents, it is 5-3. And when it has acquired more turnovers it is also 5-3.
The numbers, however, were a little more stark in 2009 as UW was 0-5 when losing the turnover battle, 2-0 when it tied and 3-2 when it won it.
Last year, it really didn’t seem to matter much as UW was 2-2 when it lost the TO battle, 3-3 when it tied, and 2-1 when it won it.
Games UW won when losing the TO battle included two of the most critical of the year, at Cal and at WSU. That UW was able to win those games despite not winning the TO battle (minus-two against Cal, minus-one against WSU) Sarkisian might say would show that the Huskies had begun to figure out how to play through adversity and prevail.
The only game UW won in 2010 where you’d say turnovers really helped the Huskies was the UCLA game, which the Huskies blew open thanks to a couple of late interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by Quinton Richardson — Washington’s only defensive score of the season and something that the Huskies will definitely have to improve on in 2011. UW lost to Oregon last year despite winning the TO margin, 2-1.
As noted above, turnovers seemed to play a bigger role in individual games in 2009. UW got huge boosts in beating USC and Cal with TO margins of plus-3 and plus-2 in those two games, and also had a plus-one TO edge in the win over Arizona (which was obviously decided solely on a turnover at the end when Mason Foster returned an interception for the winning touchdown).
And lost turnovers were a big factor in defeats to LSU and Arizona State. The tragedy of that season was losing a couple of games in which UW had a turnover edge, notably a plus-four against UCLA (UW also had a plus-one edge in the loss to Notre Dame).
UW is at plus-six in turnover margin overall in Sarkisian’s two years at UW, and a key part of that was holding interceptions thrown to 20, fewer than all but Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State and Cal. ASU has had 29 in that time, USC 28, UCLA 26 and Arizona 24.
Continuing to limit interceptions will be a particular focus this season as the Huskies break in a new QB in Keith Price to replace Jake Locker, whose nine interceptions last year were fewer than any other Pac-10 regular starting QB except Andrew Luck, who had eight.
Price did a good job of that in the spring, however, though the double-edged sword there is that then left Sarkisian lamenting that the Huskies weren’t forcing enough turnovers defensively.
But as with most stats the last two years, when UW has been 12-13 overall, the Huskies are middle of the pack in creating turnovers with a combined 42, ranking sixth among Pac-10 teams in that time. Oregon has had a whopping 62 and Stanford 52 — consistent with their status as the best two teams in the conference in that time — followed by UCLA and USC (48 each), Washington State (46), UW (42), ASU (41), Cal (40), Arizona (37) and Oregon State (36).