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Run game matters/Michael Bleach

View From the Bleachers

October 1, 2013
By Michael Bleach - DMG Sports Writer (mbleach@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

First, let's start with the obvious. The Michigan Tech football team is not going to win many games turning the ball over four times like they did last Saturday in a 40-19 loss at Findlay.*

*Of course, the last time the Huskies coughed up the ball four times - the Homecoming game last October against Northwood - Tech came away with a 28-21 victory. Stupid facts not backing up my convenient narrative.

Giving away fumbles at the start of each half is a recipe for disaster, and the Oilers took advantage, turning three of the giveaways into touchdowns with the short field position.

Turnovers are bad. Everyone knows this.

In fact, if you didn't know this, Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico would occasionally hammer this talking point last night during their Monday Night Football broadcast in between Gruden slobbering over Drew Brees' command of the offense and random grunts of "Who Dat?" when Jimmy Graham caught a pass. So if you hate-watched that game until the bitter end* because a fantasy football matchup depended on it, the point should be fresh in your mind.

*Also, dear reader, stop watching the fourth quarter of MNF blowouts. It's bad for your health.

But it is a question that bears examining: Just how bad are turnovers?

The answer may surprise you.

(Or not if you are good at sensing transparent rhetorical ploys. Bear with me.)

According to the research done by the excellent Coldhardfootballfacts.com, the winning percentage correlation with turnover-margin sits at a significant - but not overwhelming - 64 percent over the last 15 years of NFL games.

In other words, teams that finish the season with a positive turnover-margin tend to win. But not always. And it's certainly not definitive.

In fact, according to Cold Hard Football Facts, less obvious stats like total yards (70 percent) and passer rating differential (80 percent) have a much higher predictive value.

A quick and dirty look at the GLIAC standings from last season suggest the research done on NFL teams translates pretty seamlessly to Division II college play as well. Last year nine teams in Tech's conference finished with a positive turnover margin, but only five of those teams finished with winning records. So what does this mean for the Huskies?

Well, Tech still might be in trouble in its bid to defend a North Division championship, but not for lazy analysis as in "they have to stop giving the ball away."

At 2-1 this season the Huskies have turned the ball over a hurtful seven times after giving it away just 12 times all of last season. That's bad, but not overly crippling.

More telling for the Huskies, however, were the final rushing totals from Saturday's defeat. The Black and Gold finished with a mere 62 yards on 28 carries while the Oilers pounded away on a previously-successful Huskies defensive front to the tune of 319 yards on 46 carries. Sure, all the usual caveats apply - Tech fell behind and had to abandon the run, Findlay was trying to run the clock down, yada yada -- but no matter how you slice it, 319 against 62 is a pretty glaring problem.

Further, it plays right into head coach Tom Kearly's theory on defense.

"I have always believed that if you can make a team one-dimensional, that the defense has the advantage," Kearly said in the pre-season. "If you can stop the run, then you can start doing the different pressures and coverages and things like that, that make it difficult to run your offense."

The Huskies currently enjoy the greatest quarterback in school history in Tyler Scarlett. He is accurate, mobile, unflappable (difficult to flap?) and has the numbers, both rate and total, to back it up.

But he is not Drew Brees. For Scarlett to truly influence the team's win-loss record, he needs to play off an effective run game, giving him time and space to stretch the field for those game-breaking big plays.

Tech's title defense is still very much alive. A 7-3 record was good enough last year to split the North Division - and with Grand Valley also dropping a game Saturday to Ohio Dominican - an 8-2 mark could bring home silverware this season.

So despite running back Charlie Leffingwell's three lost fumbles in three games, Kearly has a more urgent problem to correct.

The turnovers are bad, but floundering in the running game would be worse.

Besides, the coach can just make Leffingwell carry a football high-and-tight wherever he goes this week. That always works in the movies.

Each week the View From The Bleachers will take a deeper look at some aspect of Michigan Tech athletics. While we will be focusing on football today, hockey and basketball will be incorporated as those sports start anew. Have questions you want addressed? Send them to mbleach@miningazette.com or @michaelbleach on Twitter. All conspiracy theories will be investigated thoroughly.

 
 

 

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