Cal Football 2007 in Numbers: Turnovers I

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, February 29th, 2008

folletttenThere was one very interesting point about Cal’s collapse that I noticed. Turnovers. Obviously the Bears’s rise to #2 in the rankings had a lot to do with holding onto the ball and capitalizing on the mistakes of the opposition–Cal had one of the highest turnover differential margins in the country after their 5-0 start, and after that, they completely turned in the other direction, playing hot potato often and badly.

But turning over the ball is one half of the story. What did we do with them during the rise and how did we handle them during the fall? Did we turn them into points? We can go game by game and closely examine these discrepancies.

In this distribution, I’m going to vaguely assume that all turnovers are created equal (i.e. their relative impact is about the same). I’ll start with a game by game summary and then measure the impact later on in a table. (Note I represent the team by turnovers forced, not lost). Let’s start with 5-0, which is much more pleasant to discuss.

Tennessee v. Cal
Cal: 1 fumble recovery on TN’s first possession at midfield returned for a TD for a 7-0 lead.
Result: 7 points off 1 turnover.
Tennessee: 1 fumble recovery in the end zone down 45-31 late in the 4th, zero points.
Result: 0 points off turnover.

Analysis: In reality, we can see how big a psychological impact Cal’s turnover had over Tennessee–the Vols were driving, and the Bears immediately snuffed out the opening drive and claimed the lead. That set the tone for the rest of the game as Tennessee was forced to play catch-up the rest of the evening. Tennessee’s turnover came late, but I admit it did have a bit of a dent–a Longshore TD would have made it 52-31 and would have boosted that much more confidence into the Bears. 45-31 is a good win, but not exactly dominant.

Cal vs. Colorado State
Cal: 1 interception at Cal’s 3 yard line (tied at 7-7), converted into a punt; fumble recovery at CSU 37, converted into a punt; 1 interception at Cal 45 while down 20-14, turned into a TD.
Result: 7 points off of 3 turnovers.
CSU: 0 turnovers forced.

Analysis: Cal looked completely vulnerable in this game.

Even though they led by 20 with a few minutes left, the Bears offense was at best uneven. But again they were helped by turnovers, especially a red zone turnover that would prevent the Rams from taking a 14-7 lead early. This could be considered a seven point swing, or at the worst three points in the bag for CSU. Cal interestingly would not take advantage of a turnover in CSU territory and settle for a punt, but did manage to take a Hanie pick and turn it into seven points. That’s about ten points and the difference in the game.

Louisiana Tech vs. Cal
Cal: fumble recovery at La Tech 25 converted into TD, 14-0; INT at Cal 46, converted into TD, 28-6; INT at Cal 18 with the score 35-12, turned into INT.
Result: 14 pts and a turnover off of 3 turnovers.
La Tech: INT at La Tech 40, converted into punt.
Result: 0 pts off of 1 turnover.

Analysis: Sloppy game. The fact that Cal had to get two turnovers in opposing territory to force a blowout shows how badly the Bears played in this one. But again the defense prevented the opposing team from taking advantage of Cal’s lone turnover–especially when the turnover was in Cal territory.


Arizona vs. Cal
Cal: Fumble recovery in the end zone to make it 28-3 Cal; interception at Cal 16 leads to missed field goal, interception at end of first half, fumble at Arizona 29 leads to a TD, 38-10 Cal.
Result: 4 turnovers for 14 points.
Arizona: Interception at Cal 36 leads to interception at Cal 16, fumble at Cal 23 results in a field goal.
Result: 2 turnovers for 3 points.

Analysis: Strong effort. The two turnovers that weren’t converted into scores came in difficult spots to turn up scores–at their own 16, and at the end of the half. The other two scores provided the comfortable margin of victory. On the defensive side, the early Cason interception was negated by a subsequent Tuitama pick, and Arizona’s last gasp effort on a Montgomery fumble was halted and ended in a field goal.

Cal vs. Oregon
: Fumble recovery on kick return in Oregon territory, resulted in punt; INT at Oregon 21, resulted in go-ahead TD and 31-24; INT at Cal 17, resulted in punt; fumble at Cal 1, resulted in kneel-down and end of game
Result: 4 turnovers for 7 points.
Oregon: No forced turnovers.
Result: Squadoosh.

Analysis: This is where the warning bells started going off. The fact that Cal needed FOUR turnovers in the final quarter to barely hold off the Ducks showed something about Cal’s defense–they could yield yards in a hurry, take the ball from them, and repeat the process all over again. This wasn’t much of a winning strategy, and in retrospect, we can say that the Bears were lucky to escape.

Even the fact that Cal’s supposedly powerful offense could hold onto that ball for the entire game was not comforting–Cal could not convert on two turnovers and run out the clock on the Ducks. The fumble recovery on the kickoff return was the most egregious–Cal should have scored right then, but instead decided to go backwards. After allowing Oregon to march up the field in a matter of two minutes, they needed a lucky deflection to bounce into Alualu’s hands and Colvin to reach out for the line for Ezeff to jar that ball loose. The Alualu turnover should have sealed the game there, but Cal played safeball (an ominous sign) and allowed Dixon one last chance to win it.


We played ok with the turnovers we got. We had maximal production from Tennessee’s and Arizona’s mental mistakes, and had three average to okay games in Oregon. But the turnovers were themselves the deciding factors in all but one game. And each one flashed up warning signs about the dangerous schedule forthcoming.

In Berkeley terms, we’d built up way too much positive karma from the 5-0 start. We were bound for a fall when the breaks stopped going our way.

Next: Don’t lose the ball!

What are your thoughts on winning the turnover battle? 

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