The Florida Gators are off to their best start since 2009 when a guy named Tebow was still playing behind center. It’s been an amazing turnaround for a team that went 7-6 in Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach. There are many reasons for the big turnaround, second year in the system, year older and a year wiser, strength gains under a new strength coach, better chemistry, and the list goes on and on.
The biggest difference, however, from last year to this is in turnovers and turnover margin. When Muschamp took over he preached from every pulpit the value of taking care of the football and taking the football away from the opponent. A quick look at the numbers shows how important this is.
2011 2012 Difference
Rushing Yards /Game 143 193 50
Passing Yards/Game 185 140 -45
Total Yards /Game 329 333 4
Scoring/Game 26 26 Even
Turnovers lost 26 11 -15
Turnovers gained 14 22 8
Difference -12 11 23 turnaround
So it’s very clear that with everything even, the only difference is the turnaround in the turnover margin from last year to this.
Last year the defense played slow due to youth and getting acclimated to a new defensive system. As such they were a day late and a dollar short so to speak in terms of being in position to create turnovers and actually making them when they had the opportunity.
Increased work and emphasis in the offseason, better chemistry and communication, and players reaching a good comfort level in the system this year have all helped them to create turnovers at a higher rate this season. According to Quinn:
“Well number one I think having a lot of the guys back made a big difference. Where these guys got to play together and communicate together in terms of their improvement, I think that just another year and experience in the system has to be a big factor, as far as them taking the ball away.”
Additionally, having an off-season to work on offensive consistency and improved emphasis and concentration on taking care of the football has helped decrease turnovers dramatically. The coaches sticking with a conservative game plan and philosophy this season while working in a new quarterback has also helped keep the turnovers down.
Probably the biggest improvement in the area of protecting the football has been the quarterback simply throwing the ball away when the play’s not there. Last year Brantley tried too hard at times to make a play and it led to turnovers.
Driskel at times this season has fell in the trap of holding on to the ball too long hoping to make a play and he has taken some sacks and lost the football or thrown a pick. He’s learning through increased emphasis to just throw it away. Don’t take a chance. Brent Pease spoke of this,
“I think it’s probably in anybody’s instinct that they want to complete every pass, you know you believe your receivers can make these great catches, someone’s going to always be open, you can outrun the guy that’s chasing you. So I think it’s probably just the competitive nature. But you do have to throw it away.”
So the importance of emphasizing the turnover margin is very clear.
Quinn says “I think sometimes you get what you emphasize (turnovers), and we’re continuing to emphasize that in the some of the different ways that we do it.”
When fans grouse about the seemingly pedestrian offensive play-calling at times, it should be kept in mind why the staff sticks to this philosophy. The only game this season they got a little careless with the football is the only game that the Gators lost.
Expect the staff to stick with the tough grind it out conservative plan they’ve used thus far. If the turnaround is to continue through the final three games of the season, the turnover turnaround must continue as well. If so they may yet finish 11-1 and in the running for a BCS bowl which would be an amazing turnaround indeed.