Will Muschamp didn’t pull any punches following the Gators 21-16 loss to the Miami Hurricanes. After criticizing the defense for giving Miami momentum early, he then turned to the Gators turnovers and red zone inefficiency. We’ve covered the defensive performance and the red zone woes and today we’ll tackle the turnovers.
It wasn’t the only reason Florida went 7-6 in Will Muschamp’s freshman season as Florida’s head coach but Florida’s 26 lost turnovers in 2011 certainly didn’t do the team any favors.
The Gators not only coughed the ball up at an alarming rate but the defense was only able to force 14 turnovers on the year giving Florida a -12 turnover margin good for dead last in the SEC.
That season, Florida lost the turnover battle in nine of their 13 games, including all six of their losses where they were outscored 155-66.
Something changed from year one to year two, however. After hearing the coaching staff preach ball security on offense and takeaways on defense, the light switch finally went off for the players. The offense held onto the ball like a gold bar stashed away in Fort Knox, while the defense suddenly became more adept at stealing from opposing offenses than John Dillinger was at stealing from banks.
The correlation between Florida’s 7-6 finish in 2011 and their 11-2 turnaround in 2012 can be attributed in large part to turnover margin. The 2012 version of the Gators finished with a +15 turnover margin, third best in the SEC. Florida won every game that they had a positive turnover margin and their two losses, yep, you guessed it, negative turnover margins for the game.
Florida outscored opponents 292-121 when they took the ball away more than they coughed it up in 2012 and were conversely outscored 50-32 when they were a little more generous than greedy.
We all know that turnovers kill momentum, end drives and can doom even the most veteran and talented teams in the country. But when you look at what kind of difference turnovers really make on the outcome of games, the numbers are astounding. Under Will Muschamp the Gators have outscored opponents on average by 20 points a game when they finish with more takeaways than turnovers. They’ve outscored opponents 466-186 in that span. When they don’t win the turnover battle, Florida has been outscored 272-205, an average of approximately six points per game.
This tells us that Florida isn’t a bad team at all. The fact that Florida continues to remain in games after shooting themselves in the foot with a bazooka should tell you about the resolve of the defense and the team as a whole.
But you can’t expect to win games with resolve alone. You have to, at all costs, protect the football on offense and be greedier than the Grinch on defense.
“We got in the red zone but turnovers and penalties really killed us,” Jeff Driskel said following Florida’s -4 turnover margin loss to Miami. “We really stressed that (turnovers) in the offseason and they killed us today.”
Driskel wasn’t the only member of the Gators to realize that Florida had literally turned the game over to Miami last Saturday. When asked about how his quarterback performed against Miami, Muschamp was quick to both criticize and praise his signal caller.
“Well, again, ball security. I thought he hit some balls down the field. I thought he did some nice things in the run game. But you can’t have the turnovers, especially in the red zone. You can’t do that,” Muschamp said. “You can’t make those decisions. We can’t afford to take points off the board in those situations and that’s such an emotional lift for the other team. So that just can’t happen.”
The loss to Miami hurts your heart, it hurts your pride and most importantly, it hurts your ears as Gator fans know they’ll get a never-ending stream of bravado from their friends down south. But it doesn’t signal the end of the season.
Florida is currently -4 in turnover margin (last in the SEC) after two games. Why is a team that was so good in this aspect of the game so bad this season? I don’t have the answer to that but Will Muschamp and his coaching staff better come up with one quick. Tennessee is coming to Gainesville and Florida’s eight game winning streak over the Vols will come to an end if the Gators don’t turn the page on turning the ball over.