Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t big on a lot of statistics — at least not the ones fans see on a regular basis. However, a big exception to that is turnovers.
He calls it “one of the most significant statistics in winning and losing,” and it’s becoming ingrained in everything the Crimson Tide do on the field.
That’s why you hear things such as, “We want to protect the football at all cost,” from Damien Harris.
The senior running back didn’t have a fumble last season. His entire position group had just 1, committed by Ronnie Clark against Mercer.
Just a few years ago fumbles were a major concern for the Crimson Tide backfield, but no more. If Alabama could stop having issues with the returners fielding punts, the team would be posting some eye-popping numbers.
Consequently, even though Alabama hasn’t led the nation in turnover margin during the Saban era, they’ve still become the kings of the statistic.
Only once since 2007 has Alabama not had a plus ratio.
Alabama turnover ratio
Overall, that’s 267 turnovers created compared to 177 lost, +90 during the 11 years for an average of +8.2.
When Alabama can run the ball and play top-notch defense, there aren’t many opponents who can beat the Crimson Tide when they don’t turn the ball over.
Last season, Alabama’s offense didn’t have a lost turnover until the Texas A&M game on Oct. 22. It finished with 10, the fewest during the Saban era, and a total that was nearly half that of the previous season.
Although quarterback Jalen Hurts was criticized for hesitating on his throws and too often tucking the ball and running, he had just 1 interception and 2 lost fumbles for 3 total turnovers.
As a freshman, Tua Tagovailoa had 2 passes picked off, including one for a pick-6 against Tennessee. Avoiding those kinds of mistakes is the key for him heading into fall camp.
2017 Alabama fumbles
- Player, fumbles-lost
- Jalen Hurts, 4-2
- Henry Ruggs III, 3-2
- Xavian Marks, 3-1
- Trevon Diggs, 3-0
- Robert Foster, 2-1
- Ronnie Clark, 1-1
- Tua Tagovailoa, 1-0
Hurts’ fumbles numbers were way down from the previous year, when he had 11 with five lost — which wasn’t that surprising for an 18-year-old freshman.
However, his dramatic improvement in 2017 still didn’t prevent him from taking over the lead for most fumbles during the Saban era and tying for the most lost.
Alabama fumbles by player (2005-17)
- Jalen Hurts (2016-17), 15-7
- AJ McCarron (2010-13), 11-5
- John Parker Wilson (2005*-08), 11-4
- T.J. Yeldon (2012-14), 10-7
- Greg McElroy (2007-10), 10-5
- Kenyan Drake (2012-15), 7-6
- Glen Coffee (2005*-08), 7-4
- Blake Sims (2011-14), 7-4
- Javier Arenas (2006*-09), 7-2
- Trent Richardson (2009-11), 7-1
* Includes pre-Saban years
Most of the players who have fumbled at least seven times during the Saban era have been quarterbacks, who handle the ball on every snap. In comparison, running backs have had 64 fumbles, losing 37, or averaging 5.8 and 3.4 per season.
Alabama saw a spike after the departures of Mark Ingram Jr. and Trent Richardson but seems to be getting back to the standard those running backs set.
Alabama fumbles (2007-17)
- 2007: 20-8
- 2008: 19-10
- 2009: 16-7
- 2010: 20-9
- 2011: 12-4
- 2012: 24-12
- 2013: 14-10
- 2014: 18-12
- 2015: 12-7
- 2016: 26-10
- 2017: 20-7
- Total: 201-96 (average 18.3-8.7)
Ingram fumbled 3 times and lost 2 in his tenure (2008-10) and Richardson lost just 1 (2009-11), that one against Ole Miss as a freshman. That works out to Ingram having a fumble every 211 times he touched the ball, or a fumble lost every 317 touches. For Richardson, it was a fumble every 90.9 touches, but a fumble lost every 636.
The player leading that charge now is Harris, who has had 3 fumbles during his Crimson Tide career and none lost out of 367 career touches.
“It’s just a mindset,” Harris said last season. “If you don’t turn the ball over, you automatically give yourself a better chance to win. And we look at the reports every week. Teams with plus-turnover margin usually have more success. So it’s just something we really focus on — offensively protecting the ball, and defensively getting the ball out and getting turnovers. We like to play off each other.”
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