Ball Security Key to Victory

For all the numbers being circulated to confirm the Vols offense struggles, the single most important statistic as it relates to success and failure is also the smallest — turnover ratio.

Against Alabama, UT suffered a minus-3 turnover margin and lost by three points. If not for the strong effort of the defense the score could have been much worse. In fact, the last three times Tennessee has posted a minus-three or more turnover margin it lost.

In 2002, the Vols had four more turnovers than Alabama and lost 34-14. In 2003, UT turned the ball over three more times than Georgia and lost 41-14. In 2004, Auburn forced four more turnovers than Tennessee and came away with a 34-10 victory. All three of those games were played at Neyland Stadium.

Conversely, some of the Volunteers most significant wins have been made possible by better ball security than their opponent. For example: Tennessee went into Miami as a 12-point underdog in 2003 and came away with a 10-6 victory despite compiling only 170 yards in total offense or 151 fewer than the Canes. In the 2004 Cotton Bowl UT enjoyed a plus-five turnover margin and recorded a 38-7 victory over Texas A&M. The Vols entered that contest as a four-point favorite.

On the year, Tennessee is minus-four in turnover ratio and minus-five in its three setbacks. No better example of the significance of the turnover margin can be found than this season's game against LSU. In the first half of that SEC contest the Vols were a minus-three and trailed 21-0. In the second half they were plus two and outscored LSU 30-6.

The turnover trend holds true throughout the years. In 1996, the Vols had a plus-nine turnover ratio and went 10-2 beating Northwestern soundly in the Citrus Bowl. The only games in which they didn't enjoy a turnover advantage that seasons were in losses to Florida and Memphis.

Okay, so which were the best seasons in terms of our formula in the last 10 years? They're not hard to guess. In 1995, the Vols had a turnover ratio of plus-14. They went 11-1 and finished No. 2 in the nation.

In 1998, the Vols had their best-ever turnover ratio under Fulmer with a plus-16, which also led the nation. The end result was a 13-0 record and their first national title in 47 years. Tennessee also led the nation in turnover ratio in 1985 when they went 10-1-2, winning their first SEC title in 16 years and defeating No. 1 Miami 35-7 in the Sugar Bowl.

It's possible to overcome a bad turnover margin if you have a high-powered offense and an outstanding kicking game. That further explains why Tennessee is out of the SEC title chase with a 2-3 mark in the conference.


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