Monday, May 19, 2008

The Importance of Turnovers

If you out-rush your opponent, have fewer turnovers than your opponent and put pressure on the opposing quarterback, you'll win almost every college football game you're in. Tech's running game has already been discussed. As for the other two, well, one can be a byproduct of the other. If you're able to put pressure on the quarterback, you're able to force him into making decisions he wouldn't otherwise making and possibly force an interception on a bad throw or a fumble on a sack.

Winning the turnover battle requires solid play from both the offense and defense, just like out-rushing the opponent. However, out-rushing the opponent is more indicative of how both teams' lines played through the whole game. Turnovers can often have a more immediate impact on the game.

Turnovers have an effect on field position, momentum and the crowd. An interception by the home team can ignite the crowd and give momentum to the offense that wasn't there previously. By contrast, a fumble in the red zone by the home team can silence a frenzied fan base. Turnovers can also lead directly to points, as every Hokie fan knows.

So why is it important for the Hokies to have more takeaways that giveaways? Simple. Tech has not lost a game in which the opposition committed more turnovers than the Hokies since 2004. The Hokies lost at home to NC State despite forcing two turnovers and committing one. Since then, they've rattled off 28 consecutive wins when forcing more turnovers than they've committed.

Here it is by season since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004:
ACC games in parenthesis

Committing fewer turnovers
2004: 6-1 (4-1)
2005: 8-0 (4-0)
2006: 8-0 (4-0)
2007: 7-0 (6-0)
Total: 29-1 (18-1)

Committing more or equal turnovers
2004: 4-2 (3-0)
2005: 3-2 (3-2)
2006: 2-3 (2-2)
2007: 4-3 (2-2)
Total: 13-10 (10-6)

Turnovers can also explain the Hokies' struggle in recent bowls. Since joining the ACC, Tech's only bowl win was in the 2006 Gator Bowl over Louisville. In that game, Tech forced four turnovers and didn't commit any. The Hokies forced Card QB Hunter Cantwell to throw three interceptions, the last of which was returned for a game-clinching touchdown in their 35-24 win.

However, in the three losses, the Hokies lost the turnover battle by a combined total of 9-4, including 7-2 in the last two bowls against Georgia and Kansas.

An important part of winning the turnover battle is the quarterback. It's important to have a smart quarterback capable of managing the game and not committing dumb turnovers. Sean Glennon has filled this role for the most part, but has had two bad outings in bowl games. He threw three in the Peach Bowl loss to Georgia and two more in the Orange Bowl loss to Kansas.

While Glennon has laid two eggs in bowls, he is responsible for the Hokies winning the turnover battle in a lot of their games. He doesn't force passes that aren't there, he doesn't throw into double coverage and when he misses, he's typically putting the ball where only his receive has a chance to make the catch.

Tyrod Taylor, being a mobile quarterback, is by nature going to commit more turnovers than a pocket quarterback. This is because mobile quarterbacks carry the ball more often and are more susceptible to fumbles. He threw three interceptions last year, only one of which had enough negative impact to have an effect on the game. But what an effect it had.

The other key component to turnovers are the defensive ends. They're the ones applying pressure to the quarterback, forcing interceptions and fumbles. And fortunately for the Hokies, they have had some great ones the last four years. Jim Davis, Noland Burchette, Darryl Tapp and Chris Ellis were about as good as you could ask for over a four-year period. This year, it's up to Orion Martin, Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown to continue the tradition.

The Hokies should have another good year in the turnover battle in 2008. They have a solid group of defensive ends and two playmakers in the secondary in Macho Harris and Kam Chancellor who can force interceptions. They also have two quarterbacks who aren't going to force things that aren't there and cost the Hokies a game with a dumb giveaway.

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