Turnovers — Utah’s offense is wallowing in them while the defense is desperate for them.
The category is telling the tale for the Utes, who have lost two fumbles and thrown 15 interceptions but have recovered just eight fumbles and made two interceptions.
It’s a statistic that coach Kyle Whittingham always has emphasized as important to his team’s success. His team’s troubles in the area are driving him crazy.
“In our losses, it’s showed up,” he said. “In our wins, it’s been reversed. It’s pretty apparent what our issue is. We’ve got to get it fixed. That’s the long and short of that.”
What likely sticks out in most fans’ memory is all of Utah’s interceptions. Quarterback Travis Wilson threw three in the loss to Oregon State, six in the loss to UCLA and two apiece in losses to Arizona and USC.
While the offensive turnovers certainly are an issue to the point that quarterback changes and slowing down the offense have been discussed as possible solutions, Whittingham isn’t putting all the turnover woes on the offense.
Utah’s four turnovers against USC led to 16 points for the Trojans in the first half, but Whittingham said the defense needs to create its share of mishaps, just like USC’s defense did.
USC nabbed an interception off a tipped pass and recovered a fumble that Wilson lost as he was scrambling.
“The turnover margin is just that, it’s the turnover margin,” he said. “It’s not all just the offense turning the ball over, it’s combined with the defense not taking it away. Because if we take it away four times like they do, then it’s even. So that turnover margin is a team effort, not just an offensive thing.”
Utah’s defense long has prided itself in creating turnovers, but the last two years Utah hasn’t had much luck doing so with just eight in 2012. The Utes averaged 16.8 interceptions in the four previous years.
Whittingham said the Utes have had several “missed opportunities” for the defense to gain possession but have failed to do so.
“It’s not like we haven’t had several opportunities to intercept the ball,” Whittingham said. “The ball’s been on the ground several times. We’ve had the opportunity to recover several fumbles, but we have the opportunity to recover more than what we’ve gotten, so we just keep working and keep preaching it.”
Utah’s secondary is the most inexperienced area for the defense, something Whittingham offers as a reason for the turnover deficiency.
However, the Utes aren’t using youth as an excuse.
“We just need to keep playing and be more physical,” linebacker Jacoby Hale said. “Once we do get an opportunity, we have to take advantage of it.”
Putting so much emphasis on the defensive turnovers when the offense is creating so many might not seem fair, but Utah’s defenders say they understand they have to do their part.
Give it away
Despite the high number of turnovers by the offense, the Utes defense needs to create more turnovers. Here is a look at the turnovers that Utah’s defense has snagged in recent years.
Year F.R.* INTs
2013 8 2
2012 14 8
2011 14 19
2010 13 12
2009 8 17
2008 12 19