Math Wednesday: Emphasizing Takeaways

By Chad Peltier on May 1, 2013 at 6:30p

The connection between winning the turnover battle and winning the entire game is well documented and empirically tested

Not to mention Doran GrantThe secondary will need to step up the number of takeaways

In fact, some would argue that turnover margin (the difference between takeaways and turnovers) is the single most important statistic for predicting how well a team will perform.

Tom Herman agrees, telling Rivals in 2011, "If you win the turnover margin and the explosive-play margin, you will win almost all of the games. There was an NFL study about 10 years ago that looked over five seasons. And teams that won those two areas won 97.5 percent of the time." 

This appears to be true when looking at Alabama, which has led the SEC in turnover margin over the last five years.

It's easy to criticize Alabama quarterbacks as only game managers, but Saban coaches his quarterbacks to be risk averse for a reason. 

As the Buckeyes prepare for "The Chase" this upcoming season, they will fight to approach Alabama's turnover margin in terms of both maximizing takeaways and minimizing fumbles and interceptions. 

The Buckeyes were 48th in the country last season in turnover margin. Disaggregating this ranking, the Buckeyes were 69th in takeaways and tied for 29th in turnovers. 

Compared to Oregon, who led the country last season, the Buckeyes were among the best teams in terms of not turning the ball over (Oregon turned it over 19 times compared to Ohio State's 18), but were extremely behind in takeaways. 

Meyer has a history of leading the country in turnover margin, finishing in the top 25 in 2005, 2008, and 2009. Between 2005 and 2010, his Florida teams were second in the country in number of passes intercepted. 

The 2012 Buckeyes were just average in passes intercepted and poor in fumbles recovered. While this didn't affect the Buckeyes' win total, it certainly didn't make it any easier. 

Looking at the Buckeyes' 2012 season and the turnover margin, we can classify games according to one of three basic categories: 1. A high turnover margin helped in a blowout, 2. The Buckeyes barely won despite a neutral or negative turnover margin, and 3. A positive turnover margin was instrumental in winning. 

Against Miami of Ohio, UAB, and Nebraska, the Buckeyes had a combined 9:1 turnover margin. It is nearly impossible to lose when a team is able to severely limit the opposing team's possessions.

Drew Dileo kind of looks like Michigan's Mortified Punter hereBarnett and Bryant won't shy away from big plays

Travis Howard and Bradley Roby were completely in sync with Zac Dysert and Taylor Martinez in the Miami and Nebraska games, with each corner picking up two interceptions in each game. 

Besides dreaming about getting his first pick-six the night before, Roby mentioned that the game film showed Martinez relied upon just a few common routes. By studying film, anticipating these throws, and playing aggressively, Roby was able to get his first two interceptions of the season.

In contrast, the Buckeyes almost blew it against UCF, Michigan State, and Purdue, and the turnover margin played a key role in each of these close wins. 

While it's unlikely the Buckeyes would have lost to UCF, Rod Smith and Zach Boren's fumbles did nothing to help a too-close game. 

Against Michigan State, Braxton coughed up the ball three times. Despite Meyer's enthusiasm for the win after the game, he said:

“The one thing, if I remember right, (Miller’s turnovers) were all in plus territory, though,” he said. “If I remember, Braxton, Braxton and Braxton. I gotta go visit with Braxton. Remember that family member? He’s not in the family anymore.”

While the inability to create big plays on defense and the four turnovers on offense certainly didn't help Ohio State, Purdue failed to capitalize on a single one of the Buckeyes' four turnovers. That is pretty remarkable for the Buckeye defense. It's not easy for a defense to be forced into action earlier than expected and often in a high-stress situation following a turnover. 

While Buckeye turnovers didn't lead to any direct Purdue points, the Buckeyes primarily were hampered by their own missed opportunities and shortened drives. 

Finally, a positive turnover margin (5:2) played a crucial role in the Buckeyes' final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. If not for Shazier's forced fumble and Christian Bryant's recovery on the goal line, Montée Ball would have tied the game earlier, with around 2:45 left in the game. 

Sometimes we forget how crucial turnovers were to Ohio State's success against Michigan. The Buckeyes forced three fumbles and picked off Devin Gardener once, taking away four potential scoring drives. 

Looking back on the 2012 season, it's easy to see that the Buckeyes won in spite of somewhat mediocre statistics. The Buckeyes had a relatively mediocre turnover margin, yet still ended the season 12-0. As the Buckeyes begin their Chase in the 2013 season, pay close attention to the turnover margin – especially the number of takeaways.


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German Buckeye's picture

I think the defense at the start of last year was trying too hard to take the ball away rather than fundamentally wrap up and tackle - led to a lot of broken tackles, etc.  Needs to be some balance.    

BeijingBucks's picture

I agree with this.  We weren't screaming the last two years about a lack of takeaways... we were screaming about lack of tackling leading the opposing team to unecessary big games.
Don't get me wrong turnovers are a gamechanger but fundamentals end more drives.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Hovenaut's picture

Fully expect this defense to increase the turnovers in a big way this fall. That pass rush, a skilled secondary and linebackers who pursue and hit with authority.....

Yes please.

BME_Buckeye's picture

Good writeup. It would be interesting to see how Meyer teams have capitalized on turnover compared into teams in the past. While its important to have a positive turnover margin, it won't mean anything unless we can get points off the turnovers unless your're in favor of the time of possession. One game that sticks out from this year is the Michigan game and the four turnovers they had. If we scored TD's early on in the game, it would have been over quicker. Hopefully we can make teams pay for their mistakes this fall more frequently. 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


ohiowhitesnake's picture

Good write up, but math on Wednesday? You have to make me do that earlier in the's too close to Friday 

I finally got a set of Gold Pants!

ziplock007's picture

"It's easy to criticize Alabama quarterbacks as only game managers"
WHAT??? You mean what Tressel did for an entire decade?

cinserious's picture

Krenzel, Zwick, (T. Smith eventually broke past middle-mgmt.) Boekman. Bauseman was never mgmt material however, thats why it wasn't till Fickell when Bauserboms got a chance.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

baddogmaine's picture

I understand the concept: limiting the opponent's offense can only help. And I think that Roby's approach to coverage - studying film and spotting trends - is right on. But I think that focusing on creating turnovers carries a risk. To a great degree an opponent's turnovers are more the product of their careless play then our good play - the pass that should not have been thrown, the ball not carried securely enough. Trying to get a turnover against a team that is playing soundly too often leads to the cornerback taking a bad angle, leading to a big play for them; a defender trying to strip the ball rather than just trying to tackle, leading to extra yardage. I'd rather the discussion not necessarily be on winning a turnover margin but on our offense avoiding careless play; and our defense playing sound, informed coverage and rushes. This way, we limit the number of our giveaways and limit the other team's big plays; and if in the course of doing our job well we can take the ball away that's the bonus. To me the keys are not turning it over ourselves and not letting the foe get more yards than it has to. The exception being if we're behind and time is running out we may have no alternative but to gamble on defense.

Idaho Helga's picture

Excellent, excellent article. Dunno why it didn't get more attention here.  Ah, it's down time.
Like Woody, who was famous for anti-pass: "There are 3 possible outcomes from a pass and 2 of them are bad". There is wisdom in this.  Especially if you have a helluva running game and a good offensive line.   Which by the way, we do.   Is it September yet?
Your review of Saban's teams is telling.  And Tebow is more of a runner naturally than a passer, so there you go on an Urb's team of the time.
All that being said the game is clearly more pass oriented at the college level than ever before.  But until the Oregon/OklaState/TexasTech(look for that outta Wassu) etc win big, then we'll figure the NFL pass-happy-only-teams  won't get you a ring in the BCS in the near future.  It will get you a lot of interceptions.  You can't be myopic on offense.  A non-lopsided offense and dogged DEFENSE will win a ring.
I will give a pass to the Boise State team (2007) that beat Oklahoma.  They might have pulled it off for the whole BSC sha-bang given the opportunity.

Buckabroad's picture

We will have to wait to see how our defense turns out, but I am very optimistic. Our secondary should be excellent, while our defensive end rushers look to be fast and vicious enough to force some bad throws and fumbles from opposing QBs. At LB we have Shazier and I really like our incoming talent. I think Johnson and Mitchell both not only have the requisite athleticism, I think they both also are intelligent players who will know how to anticipate good opportunities and get takeaways.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."