By Tony Castricone (photo credit: UW athletics)
August 25, 2018

Turnovers can completely change a college football game. In a battle between equally matched teams, there may be no more difficult obstacle to overcome than mistakes that manifest in turnovers.

The Washington Huskies have been elite in the turnover category over the last two seasons, which has been a significant contributor to UW’s 22-5 record since the start of the 2016 season.

It’s no coincidence that in four of the five losses, turnovers (or lack of ability to force turnovers) hurt the Huskies’ chances of winning badly. The lone exception came in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl against Penn State, when UW’s 3-1 turnover advantage helped the Huskies hang around, despite getting outgained by over 200 yards.

Opponent Result Takeaways Giveaways Margin
2016 vs USC L, 13-26 2 2 0
2016 vs Alabama L, 7-24 0 3 -3
2017 at Arizona St. L, 7-13 0 0 0
2017 at Stanford L, 22-30 0 1 -1
2017 vs Penn St L, 28-35 3 1 +2

 

To put it plainly, winning the turnover battle covers a multitude of  other sins. It’s not a surefire way to win, but it sure helps.

Generally speaking, the Dawgs have been both great ball protectors and ball hawks over the last two seasons. UW’s taken the ball away 57 times over the last two years, and in the wins, has earned an extra 33 possessions over those 22 games.

Takeaways Giveaways Avg. Margin NCAA Rank
2016 season 33 15 1.29 1st
2017 season 24 11 1.00 5th
22 wins 52 19 +1.50
5 losses 5 7 -0.40

 

I started to wonder which Husky defensive players are the best at helping the Dawgs take the ball away over the course of their careers. To figure this out, I looked into each defensive player’s career stats and gave a defender a full turnover credit for an interception, a half credit for a forced fumble and a half credit for a fumble recovery.

Here are the Husky career turnover leaders:

PLAYER INTs FR FR pts FF FF pts Total TOs
Taylor Rapp 5 0 0.0 2 1.0 6
Jordan Miller 4 1 0.5 1 0.5 5
Byron Murphy 3 0 0.0 1 0.5 3.5
Tevis Bartlett 2 2 1.0 1 0.5 3.5
JoJo McIntosh 2 1 0.5 2 1.0 3.5
Ben Burr-Kirven 2 0 0.0 2 1.0 3
DJ Beavers 1 1 0.5 2 1.0 2.5
Austin Joyner 2 1 0.5 0 0.0 2.5
Myles Bryant 1 1 0.5 1 0.5 2
Ryan Bowman 0 1 0.5 1 0.5 1
Benning Potoa’e 0 0 0.0 2 1.0 1
Myles Rice 0 1 0.5 0 0.0 0.5
Jusstis Warren 0 0 0.0 1 0.5 0.5
Greg Gaines 0 1 0.5 0 0.0 0.5

 

You can see how the secondary leads the way, with the top three returning turnover producers on the Huskies’ 2018 squad all playing in the defensive backfield. That probably isn’t uncommon, as interceptions constitute a larger chunk of the equation, but it’s still notable the way Taylor Rapp, Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy have performed in these areas throughout their careers.

Then, I adjusted for number of games played and divided by 12 (since there are 12 regular season games) to create a sort of “Turnovers Forced per Season” index, including only players with a minimum of one full turnover created in their career:

PLAYER GAMES TO pts TO/season
Byron Murphy 6 3.5 7.00
Taylor Rapp 27 6.0 2.67
Jordan Miller 34 5.0 1.76
DJ Beavers 18 2.5 1.67
Austin Joyner 25 2.5 1.20
Tevis Bartlett 38 3.5 1.11
JoJo McIntosh 39 3.5 1.08
Myles Bryant 24 2.0 1.00
Ryan Bowman 13 1.0 0.92
Ben Burr-Kirven 39 3.0 0.92
Benning Potoa’e 26 1.0 0.46

 

Clearly, Byron Murphy has been elite at taking away the football. It’s one of the reasons he’s making many preseason All-American lists as he heads into his sophomore season. It’s also notable how well D.J. Beavers performs on this breakdown with the kind of numbers he put up his freshman year before injuries slowed his sophomore production.

Ultimately, winning the turnover battle never guarantees victory. But there is a strong correlation. It’ll be fun to keep an eye on this category in seven days when the Huskies open the season against Auburn in Atlanta.