Turnovers are a can of football whup-ass. They are psychologically demoralizing and statistically devastating. Les Miles thinks it’s the most significant statistic to predict victory. The Mad Hatter’s football sanity is often questioned, but one thing remains certain: you can’t score without the ball, either by keeping it or taking it away.
Turnovers deflate the crowd, demoralize the sideline and enrage the coach. Mike Stoops is unemployed today due to losses, and losses come from turnovers and sacks. Great defense is two simple things: push ’em back and take it away.
The Ducks haven’t done enough of either in 2011, and Arizona State has been among the national leaders.
The Sun Devils come to Autzen with a +1.33 turnover margin, forcing 10 interceptions and 8 fumbles in their six games to achieve a 5-1 record, 3-0 in conference and tops in the South Division. If they beat UCLA on November 5th, they will lock up a berth in the first PAC-12 Championship game. Heady territory for a team that went 6-6 last year, with victories over two FCS schools.
The Ducks haven’t produced a turnover in three games. In addition, they have just 11 sacks on the season. ASU has 18.
Oregon has been disciplined on offense, with just two interceptions and three lost fumbles all season, but the defense has taken away the ball only four times all year. That’s dismal production for a unit that finished second in the country last year with 37 takeaways on the way to a 12-1 record and a berth in the National Championship Game. Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian noted that “over the previous four seasons, Oregon forced 126 turnovers in 52 games for an average of 2.42 per game. This season: 0.8 per game.”
Of course, a big part of turnovers is luck. The football is pointed at both ends and bounces in funny ways. Watch back video of Oregon’s turnovers in the LSU game, for example, and every loose football bounced directly into the hands of a Tiger. But at the same time, you have to be in the right place to get those bounces, and be ready for the football when you get them. This year, the Ducks haven’t been opportunistic around the football. So far this year they have 34 pass breakups, and more than a few of those were missed interceptions. The Duck secondary seems to have handcuffs on when they get an opportunity to pick off the ball.
A year ago in Tempe, Oregon forced seven takeaways in a 42-31 victory, three fumbles and four interceptions, including a pick six by John Boyett. 2010 Sun Devil starting quarterback Steven Threet was a turnover machine, but Brock Osweiler hasn’t been a lot better, tossing 13 touchdowns against 6 ints. Darron Thomas has a 15-2 ratio, one of the best in the country.
To beat the Sun Devils in Autzen with Game Day in town, the Ducks need to turn around this turnover trend. They can’t give ASU life by surrendering the football, and they have to get the Sun Devil offense off the field as often and as quickly as they can. With LaMichael James likely to be out, Oregon’s margin of error isn’t as great. They need Darron Thomas and Kenjon Barner to have good days and take care of the football, and the Duck defense to rip, strip and snatch a couple. A decisive win puts Oregon back in the national spotlight, especially since they haven’t faced a ranked team since falling to LSU in the season opener on the road. Gaining turnovers and avoiding them is a crucial part of controlling Saturday evening’s game.