UCLA needs to turn over its turnover ratio if it hopes to win
UCLA has spent the first half of the season hosting weekly giveaways.
Here, take this underthrown pass. There, go grab that football bouncing on the turf.
The discrepancy in what the Bruins giveth and taketh away in the turnover department is a primary explanation for their struggles despite owning one of the most prolific offenses in school history.
They have committed 15 turnovers in six games, leading to 53 points. They have generated only five takeaways, resulting in 10 points.
As if their collapsible defense weren’t worrisome enough, UCLA ranks No. 126 out of 129 major college teams in turnover margin with an average of minus-1.67 a game. It’s a trend the Bruins (3-3 overall, 1-2 Pac-12 Conference) hope to reverse Saturday against Oregon (4-3, 1-3) at the Rose Bowl.
“I mean, that’s like everything,” UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen said. “Turnovers are the great neutralizers that allow worse teams to beat better teams and if you can take the ball away, it doesn’t matter how many yards they had because they don’t have the ball to convert.”
Rosen has been the primary culprit, with eight interceptions and two lost fumbles on plays in which he was sacked. Rosen is the only repeat offender among the Bruins who have lost the team’s seven fumbles. He also forced several passes that were intercepted during losses to Memphis and Arizona.
What’s it going to take to stop turning the ball over?
The turnovers are a big reason the Bruins are .500 despite averaging 39.5 points a game and 6.9 yards a play, the latter figure putting them on a school-record pace.
“We leave too many plays out there and we turn the ball over too much,” UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “If we can avoid those things, then we’d have a chance to have a special run — one of those runs you don’t get very often.”
Nine of UCLA’s turnovers have been returned for touchdowns or come on the Bruins’ side of the field, putting an already suspect defense on shakier ground.
The turnover problems have been particularly acute on the road, where the Bruins have given the ball away 11 times in three games. They’ve also been major momentum killers.
UCLA tailback Brandon Stephens fumbled against Memphis only one play after Bruins safety Adarius Pickett had intercepted a pass. UCLA receiver Theo Howard fumbled against Stanford not long after he had dropped a pass that would have given his team a two-touchdown lead.
The Bruins’ four turnovers against Stanford led to 20 points, erasing any hopes of a comeback during the Cardinal’s 58-34 victory.
Just as troublesome for the Bruins has been their inability to create turnovers. UCLA has generated only one takeaway in its last three games, and that came on special teams against Stanford when long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker fell on a loose ball following a UCLA punt.
Bruins cornerback Darnay Holmes has produced his team’s only touchdown off a takeaway when he returned an interception 30 yards for a score against Hawaii.
Then again, takeaways might seem like a luxury for a defense that’s giving up an average of 40.5 points and 523 yards a game.
“I go back to being able to tackle and getting them in the position to make tackles and then ripping the ball out,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said, listing his priorities in order. “Hell, we’re just hanging on a lot of the time to even try to make a tackle. That’s one of the things we’re focusing so hard on.
“But the job of a coach is to say not, ‘This is what we’ve got to do’ but to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do to create what we need to happen.’ ”
Bruins receiver Darren Andrews said the solution for the team’s turnover problems might be found on the artificial turf fields next to the team’s new Wasserman Football Center.
“Practice, practice and more practice,” Andrews said. “I don’t think there’s really much to it except practice on it and get better, do drills for it and hopefully they go away.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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