Oregon Strategy Session: The Turnover Battle

Fletcher JohnsonCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:   Runningback LeGarrette Blount #9 of the University of Oregon Ducks hurdles a player en route to a touchdown during his team's 42-31 win over the Oklahoma State University Cowboys in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Duck fans and media alike have many questions about the Ducks heading into the fall, but there may be one factor that no one is talking about right now that could make or break the Ducks' season.

Deep in every season, analysts and fans start recognizing how turnovers and turnover margin are affecting their team.

Oregon seems to follow a common trend in this area.  When they are ahead in the turnover battle for the season, they have a good year, but if they are in the negative, they struggle. 

USC is one of the most dominant programs because they always win the turnover battle. 

In Pete Carroll’s first five seasons, the Trojans averaged a plus-1.3 to 1.6 in turnover margin.  But in the last three seasons, the Trojans have not shown near as much dominance, averaging only a plus-0.3.  When was the last season the Trojans went to the championship game? 

That’s right, four years ago—2005.

But enough about the Trojans.  In 2008, Oregon was a plus-five for the season.  Oregon went 10-3, slaughtering both Oklahoma State and Oregon State at the end of the season, winning the turnover battle in those two games by a combined four turnovers.

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In 2007, Oregon was plus-nine.  The Ducks were making a run at a national championship until Dennis Dixon went down.  The team finished 9-4, but in those four losses, they were a negative six in turnover margin.

Finally, in 2006, the team went 7-6 with a negative-ten turnover margin.  The Ducks had only four games where they won the turnover battle and were manhandled in their bowl game by Brigham Young University, 38-8.

With Oregon running an offense that already puts the defense on the field for an extended period of time, turning the ball over would be the kiss of death.  Oregon has avoided losing games where they lose the turnover battle because they score when they don’t turn it over. 

That might seem to skew the statistics, but not in this case.  When Oregon wins games where they lose the turnover battle by one or more, it is the exception to the rule. 

This year, Oregon’s defense is expected to be better than in 2008 even though they lost six starters, three of which were drafted.  Walter Thurmond is a ball-hawking corner and Willie Glasper seems ready for the challenge at the other corner.  Will Tukuafu will cause some fumbles, as will linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Eddie Pleasant. 

I like Oregon’s chances to take the ball away from opponents this fall.   

Oregon brings many sure-handed offensive players into the 2009 season, including starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. 

Masoli was chastised at times last season for not throwing the ball, but it seemed clear he was not comfortable throwing the ball into tight spots, so he used his other valuable asset: his legs. 

As the seasons came to a close, the growth of Masoli was visible as he threw the ball only in spots where his receivers would catch it.

Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount were dependable in 2008, and I would expect no different in 2009.  The receivers are relatively unproven, but nothing out of fall camp should lead you to believe that they would have trouble hanging on to the ball. 

Which is a much different story than the past couple years.

Sometimes complacency sets in and results in mistakes with the football or on individual plays.  I don’t think this will be a problem because of the new blood on the coaching staff.  With Kelly at the helm and some new faces (including former Nebraska star and current wide receiver coach Scott Frost in the mix), a different attitude seems to have this team focused and ready to have a big season. 

Six of the teams Oregon will face this fall, including three of their first four matchups, (Boise State, Utah, and Cal) finished in the top 35 in turnover margin in 2008.  Fans will know early on whether their team will be on the positive or negative side of the turnover battle in 2009.

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