Turnover Margin Success Makes Oregon Nearly Unbeatable

Brandon Oliver@@BOatBRContributor IOctober 1, 2013

It might be up for debate, but it would be hard to find another statistic in sports more important than turnovers. Turnovers hold even more weight on the gridiron as the momentum and score of a game can change completely as the result of a single play. 

A team can completely dominate a game in terms of yards gained and time of possession but find themselves trailing due to a couple of costly mistakes. Oregon fans know all too well what it is like to see a game change completely on the heels of costly turnovers.

As you can see in this game recap from ESPN.com, the Ducks faced off against an overmatched Indiana squad to open the 2004 season. The end result turned out to be the deciding factor in what became the Ducks' only losing season in the past two decades.

The Ducks outgained the Hoosiers and generally outplayed them throughout the game while dominating on the stat sheet. The one major category that didn't favor the Ducks against the Hoosiers was turnovers.

The Ducks had seven turnovers while the Hoosiers gave the ball up twice.

The table below tells the story of that game in numbers. As you can see, the last column is the only one that truly matters. The Ducks fumbled four times in the first quarter, and quarterback Kellen Clemens tossed three second-half interceptions in an embarrassing 30-24 loss to the Hoosiers.

Even though the Ducks ended with a losing record at 5-6, they had a talented team that went on to win ten games the following year.

Regardless of what their record was in 2004, the Ducks should have handled the Hoosiers at home by a wide margin. As it turns out, it was their inability to handle the ball that set the tone for a poor season, which you can relive at www.GoDucks.com.

Under completely different circumstances in 2011, the Ducks fell victim to a negative turnover margin when they opened the season at Cowboy Stadium against LSU. The Tigers went on to dominate their opponent with one of the best defenses we have seen in years in college football. 

Despite the fact that the Tigers had a roster full of future NFL stars, the Ducks managed to put up 27 points against a defense that averaged just 10.1 points per game allowed in their other 13 games.

The Ducks rushed for a total of 95 yards, the fifth-most allowed by LSU that year. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas threw for 240 yards on the day.

Only Geno Smith of West Virginia threw for more yards against the Tigers in 2011. The Mountaineers were the only team to gain more yards (533) from scrimmage than the Ducks (335) during the regular season.

The Ducks were at a disadvantage up front against the Tigers, but it was the 4-1 turnover deficit that doomed the Ducks. Oregon actually led the game for a portion of the first half. It wasn't until the mistakes came that things fell apart.

Kenjon Barner's poor decision to field a punt inside his own 10-yard line with Tyrann Mathieu and a rush of Tigers bearing down on him led to a fumble that Mathieu grabbed and walked into the end zone.

Despite the mistake, the Ducks marched down the field and took the lead back with a touchdown of their own.

Overcoming one mistake is manageable. Overcoming a rush of costly errors in a short time frame is another.

A pair of fumbles by De'Anthony Thomas during a three minute stretch in the third quarter helped the Tigers pull away by putting 14 quick points on the board against the Ducks. On both of his fumbles, Thomas looked as if he was setting the Ducks up for a chance to change the game.

The first came when he busted up the middle for a big gain on a third-down play from deep inside Oregon territory. After getting the first down, Thomas was stripped and LSU recovered and scored a few plays later.

On the ensuing kickoff, Thomas was in the midst of a big return when he was once again stripped near the Oregon 40-yard line. Once again, LSU marched down the short field and made the Ducks pay with a touchdown.

The Ducks held up to the challenge on defense by holding the Tigers to just 273 total yards. LSU managed just 3.6 yards per rush on 48 attempts. Oregon rushed for 3.4 yards per carry on just 28 attempts.

Oregon had the edge in many of the game's statistical categories and played the Tigers much more evenly than they are given credit for. They committed 12 penalties to the Tigers' five, and yet they were still in the game until the turnovers happened.

Luckily for the Ducks, losing the turnover battle has been few and far between in recent years.

During their streak of four consecutive seasons with BCS Bowl appearances, the Ducks had a 131-86 advantage in turnovers.  

In 2010, the Ducks made a run to the BCS National Championship Game.

Their incredible season was due in large part to the 37 turnovers they forced, which was good for second in the nation behind Hawaii's 38. They lost 24 turnovers, but they made their opportunities count while not letting their opponents do the same. Their turnover margin of 13 was good for eighth in the country.

During the 2011 campaign, the Ducks gained nine more turnovers than they lost, which was good for 15th in the country. They forced 29 turnovers while giving it up 20 times.

En route to winning the Fiesta Bowl after the 2012 season, the Ducks led the country with 40 forced turnovers versus just 19 given up. Their margin of 21 was also good for the best mark in the nation.

Through four games this season, the Ducks once again find themselves among the national leaders in terms of turnover margin. The Ducks have forced eight fumbles and four interceptions while only coughing it up twice.

Over the last 40 games, the Ducks have a positive turnover margin of 45.

They have won 36 out of the last 40 contests with their losses coming to BCS National Champion Auburn in 2010, BCS runner-up LSU and USC, the No. 6 team in the final AP Poll of the 2011 season.

The only other loss was a 17-14 loss to Stanford in overtime during the 2012 campaign. The Cardinal went on to finish 12-2 and finished No. 6 in the country.

Three of those losses came by a field goal to highly ranked opponents. The other was a game the Ducks very easily could have won if not for the negative-three turnover margin.

Stanford and USC both lost the turnover battle to the Ducks and walked away as winners, but they are clearly the exception, not the rule.

What it boils down to is that if you want to beat Oregon, you almost have to win the turnover battle against them. A team is almost assured a loss if the turnover battle falls in favor of the Ducks. 

The Ducks are as good as anyone in the country at creating turnovers and making their opponent pay.  Once they get the ball back and they get into a rhythm, it is an uphill battle for the team that happens to be playing them.

Oregon offensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has an attacking defense that helps the Ducks get the ball back in a hurry, and everyone knows what the Oregon offense does once that happens.

For UCLA, Washington or any of the Ducks' opponents outside of Stanford to have a shot at knocking off the Ducks, the turnover battle is the one they most need to win in order to come out on top at the end of the fight.






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