Turnover Trend Has Been Auburn's Friend

How important is a positive turnover margin for a football team's success? Check out what the statistics reveal.

Auburn, Ala.--Over the last two seasons of college football the combined record for the five leading teams in turnover margin is an eye-opening 99-15.

Another interesting statistic is that the worst record in that group of 10 teams was an 8-3 mark by Bowling Green last season.

Add to that the fact that last season's leader in turnover margin was national champion Miami and it is easy to come to the conclusion that turnovers really do win and lose football games.

Through four games of the 2002 season the Auburn team is second in the nation with a plus 11 turnover margin, which averages out to 2.75 more takeaways a game than Auburn's opponents have managed. If the Tiger defense can maintain its stingy ways throughout the next eight games, all signs point to a big year on the plains.

The fourth edition of Tommy Tuberville's Tigers are off to their fastest start in the takeaway department during his tenure. So far this season the Tigers have recovered eight fumbles and intercepted seven passes for a total of 15 takeaways. Along with the stingy defense, the offense has been miserly as well with only four giveaways thus far in 2002.

Earlier versions of Tuberville's Tigers did not get off to nearly as strong starts in the turnover department. Previously the best season through four games was 1999 when the Tigers had 13 takeaways, but gave the ball away seven times as well. In 2000, the team forced eight turnovers, but gave away six. Last season the Tigers started the season with just seven takeaways vs. nine giveaways.

Karlos Dansby (11) and Dontarrious Thomas (54) are the kind of athletic linebackers who can force turnovers.

The lean, mean turnover machine for the Tigers so far in 2002 has been Karlos Dansby. The junior linebacker has forced two fumbles and recovered two. One of those was a spectacular play against Vanderbilt in which Dansby forced a fumble by quarterback Jay Cutler, scooped the ball and scored a touchdown. As if all that was not enough, Dansby has also intercepted a pass as well and his pressure on the quarterback forced another interception.

Defensive cooordinator Gene Chizik is in his first season at Auburn.

Dansby, a junior outside linebacker, says that the spree of turnovers has been no accident. "Coach (Gene) Chizik came in with the scheme of really trying to get the turnovers," Dansby says. "And, we have drills before practice, like stripping the ball and punching the ball out and if we get the opportunity in the game to punch the ball out or strip it we are going to do it."

Another big playmaker for the Tigers on the turnover front has been sophomore Mayo Sowell. Sowell has forced two fumbles, one which was returned for a touchdown by defensive tackle Spencer Johnson against Vanderbilt.

Mayo Sowell is doing well since seeing playing time at defensive end.

Tuberville notes that Sowell has given a big boost to the Tigers' defensive effort. "Mayo is kind of a sparkplug to this defense," the head coach says. "Anywhere we put him he has always made plays. He has still played a little linebacker, but he is also playing defensive end. He just brings a lot more athletic ability to certain down and distance situations for us. He can rush the passer and he has got a presence of how to play football. Last week he had enough common sense not to go tackle a guy, but to knock the ball out of his hands when he was running down the field. He is becoming more of a complete player."

Junior linebacker Dontarrious Thomas explains that Auburn's overall aggressive style has a lot to do with turnover extravaganza. "One thing about this defense is that it is real aggressive," he says. "You see more blitzes and more things like that and it's just a hard-nosed defense that likes to attack and that is why I like this defense."

Thomas also says that if both the coaches and the players continue to work hard the ball should keep bouncing the Tigers' way. "We have just got to leave that in the hands of our coaches and when they give us a play to call we just have to go out there and execute and just come up with big plays."

Fellow linebacker Dansby says that he certainly plans on doing his part to make opposing teams drop the ball. "I am going to try and keep on bringing them. If other players step up and bring them I am happy because it is a team effort. But if I can help in any way by making big plays then I am going to keep on trying to do it."

Karlos Dansby

Along with his athletic ability, Dansby's move closer to the line of scrimmage has really given opposing offensive coordinators trouble this season. "It is kind of throwing others' game plan off," Dansby says. "Now they are really seeing that I am coming from everywhere so they are really trying to game plan and scout me out and see where I am coming from."

Overall, turnovers have been the Tigers' best friend four games into this young season. Dansby says that he realizes that and notes that if that trend can continue the Tigers will have a strong season. "It has been big for the defense and for the whole team," he says. "We are making turnovers and giving the offense the opportunity to get on the field and make things happen. Turnovers are a big key in the game. If we keep on getting them we can keep on winning."


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