Remember Missouri’s nation-long streak of games in which it caused a turnover, the one that ran from 2010 through 2014?
It went 47 games until snapping in that Sept. 20, 2014 home game against Indiana that MISSOURI DEFINITELY WON OR MAYBE NEVER EVEN HAPPENED if you ask certain Tigers fans.
Everybody made a huge deal about it. They should have. It was pretty unheard of. It was also pretty predictive of success for Missouri.
Over that span, the Tigers went 31-16, for a win percentage of .660. Missouri had a positive turnover margin in 23 of those games. The Tigers went 18-5 in those, for a win percentage of .783.
“That’s all well and good, David,” you may be saying right about now, “but what effect does this have on my life? How is this going to put food on my table and gas in my car?”
I can’t help you with that food and gas thing. But I can, finally, get to the point of this post.
Turnovers have largely been missing from the Tigers’ defense for the past two years.
The 2013 SEC East champion team turned opponents over an obscene 2.29 times a game, which made up for Missouri hemorrhaging yards to teams throughout the season.
In 2014, when the Tigers repeated, they combined a more stingy defense in terms of yards per game with one that still turned teams over at a healthy clip (1.79 per game).
In 2015, for all the earned accolades the defense garnered, it logged only 1.33 turnovers forced a game. Their 16 total turnovers gained ranked 97th in the nation. The 1.33 rate was the team’s lowest output in the 2000s.
That, combined with the offense’s inability to stay on the field, made the time of possession discrepancy even more pronounced.
And that leads to a tired, unhappy defense.
Last year’s defense — for all its faults -- actually got a little better in that department, logging 1.67 turnovers caused per game. That number’s a little down from Missouri’s average over the past decade (1.87)...but you take it where you can get it, right?
So how important has causing turnovers been to Missouri’s success since 2007?
Here’s a table about that, with the yearly per-game average for turnovers caused, then the team’s record when it causes zero, one, two or three-plus turnovers each season:
When Missouri causes one or two turnovers, the win percentage is about the same.
The real fun comes at zero (.158 win percentage) and three-plus (.897).
Are you curious about the outlier games? I sure was. Here they are:
Sept. 12, 2009 — vs. Bowling Green, 27-20
Oct. 16, 2010 — at Texas A&M, 30-9
Sept. 27, 2014 -- at South Carolina, 21-20
Three-Plus Turnover Losses
Oct. 11, 2008 — vs. Oklahoma State, 23-28
Oct. 26, 2013 — vs. South Carolina, 24-27 (another game that didn’t actually happen...right Mizzou fans?)
Sept. 3, 2016 — at West Virginia, 11-26
Oct. 15, 2016 — at Florida, 14-40
Two came last year. Weird, right?
There’s another part to this equation, of course. And that is holding onto the ball on offense as well.
Last year’s Tigers turned the ball over 1.92 times a game, which was their worst mark since 2006 (2.00 per).
High-turnover games haven’t seemed to cause Missouri as much pain over the past decade as low-turnover-forced games, though.
Here’s a similar spreadsheet to the defensive one, with all the same categories:
The .828 percentage with zero turnovers is pretty sporty, but Missouri has actually fared better over the past decade when it turns the ball over two times than it has turning it over once.
We professional sports voodoo statisticians like to call that “an alarmingly weak correlation.”
And a win has actually been almost a 50-50 proposition when the Tigers turn the ball over three-plus times, which seems odd. Take care of the ball, win games, right?
Which brings us to...turnover margin.
Over the past 10 seasons, Missouri has yet to win a game in which it turns the ball over at least three times more than its opponent. On the flip side, the Tigers have yet to lose a game in which the turnover margin is plus-three or better.
With a negative margin, the Tigers have a .286 win percentage. Neutral, .684. Winning, .844.
Let’s look at this nationally a little bit.
The top-12 teams in turnovers caused per game (Utah, BYU, Washington, Troy, Tulane, Memphis, Idaho, Boston College, Georgia, Ohio State, South Carolina, Wake Forest) had a combined .641 win percentage. Only Tulane missed a bowl.
The top-11 teams in fewest turnovers per game (Western Michigan, Old Dominion, Miami, Nevada, Ohio State, Iowa, Kansas State, Michigan, Appalachian State, Washington, San Diego State) had a combined .745 win percentage. Only Nevada missed a bowl.
The top-11 teams in average margin (Western Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, San Diego State, Old Dominion, Kansas State, BYU, Kent State, Wisconsin, Idaho, Oklahoma State) had a combined .740 win percentage. Only Kent State missed a bowl.
You didn’t see Alabama or Clemson in there. So you don’t have to get turnovers/not commit turnovers/have an elite balance between the two to win. But it’s a pretty good idea.
Which brings us to this year’s Missouri Tigers. How will they be at forcing turnovers and not committing them?
Missouri graduated eight of its 15 interceptions from last year in Aarion Penton and John Gibson. The only player with multiple fumbles forced on last year’s team (Charles Harris) is also gone.
Marcell Frazier logged two fumble recoveries last year and forced one of his own, so he can be a carnage causer candidate this year. On the back end, Cam Hilton, Anthony Sherrils and Logan Cheadle have all shown a propensity for getting into passing lanes, but Missouri really doesn’t have any defensive backs who are proven ballhawks.
On the offensive side...got to get that fumbling under control. The Tigers coughed the ball up an almost unfathomable 28 TIMES last year and lost 13 of them. Johnathon Johnson put six balls on the ground and lost two. Drew Lock fumbled four times with two lost. J’Mon Moore lost all three of his fumbles...I seem to remember a rather momentous one against Georgia. Damarea Crockett fumbled three times and lost one.
All told, the 28 fumbles were as many as the team had combined in 2014-15, and the 13 lost were three less than the team totaled from 2013-15. The 13 fumbles lost were its most since 15 in 2006.
That year, the defense also caused 2.15 turnovers a game. It also had Chase Daniel throwing an interception every 45.2 passes. Lock’s rate last year was 43.4 -- which isn’t that far off from Daniel’s — but that number dove to 32.1 against Power-5 teams.
And, even with all the gains Lock made last year, the Power-5 rate number was actually worse than the one he put up as a freshman overall (35.3).
So start pawing at that football, Marcell. Start jumping routes, Anthony, Cam and Logan. Start thinking twice before throwing that risky pass, Drew, and start wrapping up with two hands, Johnathon, J’Mon and Damarea.
The path to enlightenment — or at least demonstrable improvement over 4-8 -- may lay in the takeaway/giveaway equation.