Give and Take



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I promise to leave BYU's turnover issues alone at some point, but they have been so critical to the team's recent success or failure that I keep returning to the data and looking for new angles.

Since 1972, BYU has an overall win rate of 82% (212-45) when "even" or "plus" in the turnover margin. In that same span of time, BYU has won only 53% of games (109-93-2) when "minus" in the margin.

Under Mendenhall, the Cougars' win rate is 88% (29-4) when "even" or "plus" in the turnover tally, and 52% (11-10) when losing the giveaway/takeaway battle.

Broken down further, since 1972, BYU has an 86% win rate (150-24) when "plus" in the margin; under Mendenhall, that number is 91% (21-2). When "even," BYU has won 74% of games (62-21) since 1972; under Mendenhall, that number is 80% (8-2).

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Clearly, the BYU Cougars of today are more dependent than their predecessors on ball security in their wins and losses. Are turnovers the only reason BYU wins or loses? Certainly not; for example, Bronco is 4-0 against Colorado State and has yet to be in the "plus" column in any of the four games. But look at Bronco's 14 losses overall: his team has been in the "minus" column in 10 of them, and "plus" in only two--both versus Boston College (+1 in 2005, and +1 in 2006).

In the last seven of the 14 losses, BYU has committed at least three turnovers, and 28 overall, for an average of four per game. Four turnovers per game is not a sustainable average, although as I noted earlier this week, BYU under Bronco is actually 4-4 when turning it over four times or more.

Notably...

Bronco's first 27 games: Four turnovers or more once; zero turnovers eight times (18-9 overall record).

Bronco's next 27 games: Four turnovers or more eight times; zero turnovers four times (22-5 overall record).

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I think it is fair to surmise from those last two notes that as BYU's new offense was evolving under Robert Anae (and, importantly, as BYU's defense became less aggressive in nature), the Cougars' margin for error was much smaller--it was more crucial BYU not waste possessions to enable the implementation of a developing offensive philosophy and maximize its effectiveness.

While not consciously placing less emphasis on ball security, BYU's recent success could lead one to conclude that turnovers in a high-octane, up-tempo offense are merely a "cost of doing business," with a four-turnover win over Oklahoma being just the latest example.

However, during an 11-game win streak that came during Bronco's first 27 games, BYU turned the ball over only nine times, and never more than twice in a game (+12 margin overall during the streak). In the second 27-game period, BYU had a 16-game win streak, during which BYU turned the ball over more than twice only once, and committed only 26 turnovers overall (+10 margin during the streak).

It is most clear that BYU's periods of sustained excellence coincided with exemplary ball security. When BYU has been lackadaisical with the football, success has been hit-and-miss; since the end of the 16-game win streak until the current day, BYU has gone only 6-4, with 29 turnovers, and fewer than two turnovers only three times (-11 margin).

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As I noted briefly above, BYU's defense bears some responsibility to contribute to the turnover margin by forcing takeaways, but the defense has generally been consistent in its ability to get the ball back for the offense--only once in Bronco's previous four seasons has BYU not had more takeaways than giveaways.

The offense has been going the wrong direction: 34 giveaways in Mendenhall's first two seasons, 53 giveaways in his next two seasons--with 10 giveaways in only three games this season.

BYU threw 22 interceptions with John Beck as the quarterback in 2005 and 2006 (25 games; 0.9 int/game); 32 interceptions with Max Hall as the QB from 2007 to today (29 games; 1.1 int/game). The increase in interceptions thrown is notable but not exponentially so; fumbles lost, on the other hand, have gone from 11 (0.44/game) in 2005 and 2006, to 31 (1.1/game) from 2007 onward--a 250% increase, and that is not statistically negligible.

BYU is dancing with the devil when it comes to ball security, and history shows that if BYU has hopes of running the table this season, the turnover numbers need to turn around in a hurry.

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Tonight's "Bronco Mendenhall Show" is live at Ken Garff Honda of Orem, on University Parkway, starting at 7:00 pm.

You can pose questions to the coach by e-mail (cougarradio@ksl.com) or via text message (57500).

Iceberg Drive-Inn will be there of course with free burgers and drinks until they're gone--and they're bringing extra food tonight due to overwhelming recent demand. And there's this:

Text the word "cougars" to 89800 and get a special text sent to you for a $3.99 combo that includes the Iceburger (double meat double cheese with grilled onions), fries and a drink--you'll also be entered to win a free shake. There will be 50 winners a week.

Even if you entered last week's contest, you can do so this week and get the special text to use at any of the Iceberg locations. All of the Iceberg stores are being alerted so that BYU fans can redeem the text.

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