State of the Hogs: Turnovers

Arkansas finally got a turnover last week, but they are still in the minus category for the season. Here are some thoughts from publisher Clay Henry.

The first job my father gave me as a 14-year-old traveling with the old Arkansas Gazette sports staff covering the Razorbacks had to do with the statistic sheet. I had to fill out the form that would eventually show up as a full page in the Sunday sports section.

Part of my duty was to circle the number besides fumbles and pass interceptions and mark them to be set in bold type. Even at a young age, I figured there was a reason those numbers were more important than the dozen or so other figures on that form. I was taught that the team that wins the turnover battle is usually going to win the game, too.

Limit your turnovers and force the opposition into fumbles and pass interceptions. It's the simple way to win football games and it's been the way undermanned Arkansas teams have won games for many decades.

That's why the 3-1 start by this Arkansas team seems so strange. The Hogs have committed 10 turnovers in four games, taking only one from the opposition. That minus 9 is usually a recipe for disaster.

The Arkansas record under Houston Nutt shows that turnovers are important. In Nutt's 101 games, the Hogs are 35-5 when winning the turnover battle. Th Hogs are 15-12 when turnovers are dead even. They are 10-22 when losing the turnover battle.

I figure one of two things is going to happen. Either Arkansas is going to start losing some games or it is going to start putting up some numbers on the good side of the turnover chart.

"I've never known a team to win games without winning the turnover battle," Houston Nutt said Thursday on his way to practice. "That's what we've done good since I've been here, take care of the ball and put up plus numbers in turnover ratio."

It's been something the Hogs have talked about all fall as the ratio continued to build in the wrong direction.

"We talk about it a lot," said Randy Kelly. "I'm just glad we aren't at zero any longer."

That's where the Hogs were before Kelly scooped and scored with a fumble caused by end Antwain Robinson against Alabama. Kelly's 39-yard fumble return for a touchdown was a huge play in the victory over the Crimson Tide.

"We had to get the monkey off our backs," Kelly said. "We did that. We come out each game thinking we are going to create turnovers. We want it to happen. We knew we weren't going to stay on zero all season. It is a relief that we've finally got one. Now we have to get some more."

Kelly said the Hogs finally got to the point where they quit focusing on turnovers so much. Instead, they concentrated on effort. Lo and behold, a defensive touchdown came out of nowhere.

"I think you have to just think about playing hard all of the time and putting one play next to the last play," Kelly said. "Turnovers are going to come if you do that, just keep playing hard.

"It was just a case of the ball not bouncing our way. But, things even themselves out. We may not have gotten turnovers, but we got some other breaks the last two games."

That's exactly right. Missed field goals and extra points aren't turnovers, but they are just as important. They were huge breaks in both the Vanderbilt and Alabama victories to help the Hogs jump to a 2-0 start in the Southeastern Conference standings.

Kelly was the SEC's defensive player of the week after scoring a touchdown to go with 16 tackles, most of them against Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby.

"It was a physical game and we had to spend this open date week getting our bodies right," Kelly said. "We had some bumps and bruises. But, I think Alabama had more (bumps and bruises). We gave them some, too."

That will have to be the goal this week when the Hogs travel to Auburn for a showdown of SEC West unbeatens. Last year, the Tigers, trailing at the half, pounded the Hogs with a second-half running game that led to four straight scores and a 34-17 victory.

"We know about last year," Kelly said. "No one has to remind us what they did to us that game."

That was Kelly's first start at strong safety last season. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that the Hogs began to clamp down on the running game, something that began to show upt for the first time this season just last week against Alabama.

Just like Kelly got plenty of chances to tackle the Tide's Kenneth Darby, he'll get lots of chances at Auburn tailback Kenny Irons this week. Kelly wasn't making any brash statements where it came to stopping the Auburn offense or forcing turnovers.

"What we need to do this year is play a full game, not a half of a game like we did last year," Kelly said. "As for the other things, let the chips lie where they may."

Auburn will likely enter the game as a top five team when the Hogs travel to play the Tigers next week. Auburn will be more talented in many areas. It will be hard for the Hogs to win unless they do force some turnovers. Kelly wasn't disputing any of that.

"I just know that you have to create your own breaks," he said. "They might be turnovers. They might be other things. You can't worry about all of that.

"We were the last team in the country to get a turnover. That didn't stop us from winning three games. We know we can win either way."

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