As I wrapped up my previous column discussing Kansas State’s ridiculously balanced squad, I mentioned Kansas State was tied for first in the nation with a plus-20 turnover margin. After charting this past weekend's Oregon-California game, I decided to go back and take a further look at how the Ducks themselves stacked up in the turnover battle.
While the Ducks are currently tied for eighth in the nation with a plus-12 margin, it should be noted they are tied for the lead in total takeaways with thirty. But even more impressive than the Ducks’ ability to create a large amount of takeaways is their explosive offense’s ability to take advantage of their opponents mistakes and turn them into points very, very quickly.
There was no greater example of how game-changing it can be to capitalize on turnovers than in Oregon’s victory over Cal last weekend. Midway through the third quarter, Cal narrowed the Ducks lead to 24-17, then forced the Ducks to punt. On a drive in which the Golden Bears could have tied the game, Oregon’s opportunistic defense forced a key interception out of the hand of Cal’s quarterback, Allan Bridgford. On the very next play, the Ducks’ quarterback, Marcus Mariota, found receiver Josh Huff for a 35-yard touchdown and extended the Oregon lead to fourteen, 31-17.
If that first turnover Oregon forced opened the floodgates to their eventual 59-17 win, then the second takeaway the Ducks later forced put the nail in the proverbial coffin. Now into the fourth quarter, enjoying a comfortable 45-17 lead, Oregon once again intercepted a Bridgford pass and returned it deep into the Golden Bears’ territory. Four plays later, Mariota found receiver Will Murphy open and extended the lead, 52-17.
The chart below is a breakdown of the Ducks’ season-long trend of forcing takeaways and capitalizing on them:
|* Interceptions returned for TD count as zero plays.|
As previously mentioned, the Ducks are tied for the lead in the nation at this time with thirty forced turnovers. Thus far, Oregon has been able to turn those thirty turnovers into 136 points (either returning them for scores or having the offense score on the subsequent drive). As the far right column shows, the Ducks generally waste little time in scoring after creating a turnover.
The two games that are skewed a bit are Arizona and USC. In the Arizona game, one of Oregon’s scoring drives after a turnover lasted 20 plays, meaning the other four scoring drives after a takeaway totaled just eleven plays, or a 2.8-play average. Against USC, the Ducks had only one scoring drive after a takeaway, and that particular drive lasted 10 plays before the Ducks punched it in the end zone.
It is hard enough to slow down the Ducks when you’re playing a perfect contest. It is almost impossible to do so when you are gift-wrapping points in the form of turnovers. Thus far, Oregon opponents are averaging three turnovers per game that the Ducks have capitalized to the tune of two touchdowns per contest (13.6 points per game, to be exact).
If there is one thing Stanford coaches should be stressing as they head into their high-profile showdown in Autzen, it should be ball security. Two seasons ago against Oregon, the Cardinal turned the ball over three times and gave up 52 points. Last season, they turned it over five times and gave up 53 points. If history is not to repeat itself again, the Stanford Cardinal better flip the script on the Ducks and win the turnover battle in Saturday’s contest. But really, who are we kidding? It is doubtful that even that would be enough to conquer these red-hot Ducks.