You could even make an argument that they are the biggest shift in momentum depending on the situation when they occur.
In January 2014, the blog network SB Nation did a study on the 2013 college football season and found that in any given matchup, the team that wins the turnover battle went on to win 73 percent of the time. Those odds pretty much stay true every year.
In another turnover study done before the season started, they found that for every 0.5 a team gains in the turnover margin, it equates to around 1.25 extra wins.
After the first four games of the season Ohio State had forced seven turnovers but had given the ball away eight times. With the Buckeyes down one in the turnover margin after the Cincinnati game, coach Urban Meyer said his team needed to find a way to gain an advantage in the turnover battle.
They heard that message loud and clear as they are plus-6 in the turnover margin in their last two contests at Maryland and against Rutgers. The breakdown of those turnovers gained is five interceptions and two forced fumbles against just one turnover lost.
Not only are the takeaways happening in abundance, but they have occurred at the most opportune times in games. When the Buckeyes have needed a boost, the defense has found a way to pull through lately.
Against Maryland, Ohio State had its first three-and-out just before halftime and gave the ball, and perhaps momentum, back to the Terrapins just before half. Although the Buckeyes were up 24-10, Maryland had just scored on its previous drive and was looking to go into halftime down only seven and getting the ball to begin the second half.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee ended all worries, though, as he intercepted C.J. Brown’s first pass of the drive. After Lee fumbled on the return, Raekwon McMillan returned the ball to the Terps’ 1-yard line.
“We knew we needed a play. The whole defense walked out there, had them pinned after they had just stopped our offense,” Lee said afterward. “We had them pinned out there and it was like, ‘Hey, let’s just stop them right here.’ And we did, thankfully, and it was a pick. I shouldn’t have fumbled, but luckily Raekwon was right there. The fact that we made a big play right at a crucial point after they had stopped our offense was huge and we are going to see more stuff like that to come.”
McMillan later scored in the second half off an interception return, adding to the big-plays the defense made in College Park.
In the second quarter Saturday after Rutgers’ first touchdown to pull within 21-7, the Buckeyes had to punt on their next offensive series. Momentum had begun to shift to the Scarlet Knights as they lined up for their next offensive series.
Starting at Rutgers own 10, quarterback Gary Nova dropped back and threw a screen to Janarion Grant. Grant bobbled the ball and was stuck by Lee when he finally got possession. Lee held him up until Rashad Frazier came in and crushed Grant to force a fumble. Eli Apple was the beneficiary of the fumble as he simply picked up the ball and stepped right into the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 28-7 lead and erase any worries fans may have had of losing.
“Big momentum. It gives us a lot to work for and it makes us feel good as a defense,” Joshua Perry said after the game. “That was a team defense kind of play. One guy holds a guy up and then we got guys straining to get there. We had a D-lineman knock the ball out and then we had someone from the secondary come and scoop and score. So we had every part of the defense there and then it also takes a little bit of the pressure off the offense. They know that when the other team has the ball they’re either going to get it back in good field position or we might cause a turnover.”
That’s two straight games where a turnover either was a score or led to an immediate score. Both of those scores were complete game changers and essentially wrapped up the win for the Buckeyes.
It doesn’t sound like the defense is satisfied with that either, though.
“It makes us want more. I think that number’s going to increase in the next couple of weeks,” Lee said after the Rutgers game. “High execution is getting a lot better each week. I think everybody sees that, our defense sees that, but we still have a lot of work to do to have … domination on defense. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”