The Michigan Wolverines' 2008 campaign was absolutely dreadful and although it is difficult to nail down the reason, one area that stands out was turnovers.
The Wolverines finished dead last in the Big Ten in turnovers allowed in 2008 (30). and second to last in the Big Ten in turnovers forced (20).
Although there are many teams that struggle with turnovers, the Wolverines' problem was when they happened and what was their result.
In the first game of the season against Utah, Nick Sheridan threw an interception in the second quarter which set Utah up at Michigan's 37; they scored a touchdown on the following drive. The Utes won the game 25-23.
The Wolverines traveled to South Bend in the third week to take on Notre Dame. After only two minutes of play, Brandon Minor fumbled a pitch from Steven Threet that was recovered by the Irish at the Michigan 11.
The Irish scored a touchdown four plays later. On the following kickoff, freshman Michael Shaw fumbled to give the Irish the ball at the Michigan 14. This time, it took Notre Dame only three plays to score a touchdown.
Finally in the fourth quarter, a Threet fumbled was picked up by linebacker Brian Smith and taken 35 yards for the touchdown. Notre Dame won the game 35-17
Against Toledo, Steven Threet threw an interception into the endzone that was then taken back 100 yards for the touchdown to put Toledo up 7-0. Then in the fourth quarter, Nick Sheridan threw another interception at the Michigan 40 which set Toledo's game-winning field goal. Toledo won the game 13-10
The Wolverines turnover woes continued against Purdue, as freshman Martavious Odoms fumbled a punt in the first quarter that was recovered by the Boilermakers at the Michigan 14. Two plays later, Purdue had a touchdown, and went on to win the game 48-42.
The Wolverines game against Northwestern didn't start out well; Michigan forced a three-and-out on the Wildcats' second drive, but Martavious Odoms fumbled the punt to set up Northwestern at Michigan's 39.
Northwestern scored five plays later, and went on to win the game 21-14.
Throughout the season, only two opponents—Miami (OH) and Minnesota—didn't score off of Michigan turnovers. Not surprisingly those games also accounted for two of the Woverines' three wins. Overall, Michigan turned the ball over 17 times that led to 103 points against 10 of the twelve teams they faced.
But Wolverine turnovers didn't just result in points given up—the miscues killed many key drives, as well.
In the third quarter of the Utah game, the Wolverines drove to Utah's 35—almost in field goal range—before a Brandon Minor fumble. Had they been able to get in field goal range, they would've had a chance to win 26-25.
Against the Irish, the Wolverines turned the ball over twice inside the Irish 10-yard line.
With three minutes left in the Toledo game, the Wolverines had put together a drive that was close to getting in field goal range before Nick Sheridan threw an interception.
After the Spartans broke the 21-21 tie with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter of the Michigan—Michigan State game, the Wolverines still had a shot to come back and tie it.
However, Steven Threet threw an interception on the first play, allowing the Spartans to easily score a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
The Wolverines were mounting a comeback against Northwestern in the fourth quarter before Steven Threet threw an interception into the endzone.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they should see huge improvements in this area for multiple reasons.
The first reason is that in 2008, 66% of the turnovers were made by freshman and the Wolverines expect only one freshman to start. Last year, five newcomers started in all—including two wide-receivers, the quarterback, and running back.
Michigan also has 10 returning starters on offense—as opposed to just one (offensive guard Stephen Schilling) in 2008.
Not surprisingly, this was also an area of struggle for West Virginia when Rodriguez started there in 2001—the Mountaineers turned the ball over 32 times. The following year, they reduced that total by 17.
Last year Michigan lost five games due to points scored off of turnovers. The 2009 Wolverines should improve their record by two or three games—just by holding on to the ball.