99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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The Virginia football team moved into practices in full pads Wednesday as kickoff for the 2018 season draws closer. The Cavaliers open the season on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. with Richmond at Scott Stadium. It won’t be long!

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series continues.

No. 26 – Hold On To That Ball Petey!

With kickoff growing closer, the football movie “Remember the Titans” comes to mind for this entry in the series. One quote in particular sticks out from late in the movie. Petey Jones started the season as a running back with fumble problems and moved to defense. In the state championship game scene for the movie, the Titans’ defense created a fumble when Julius Campbell knocked the ball free. Jones recovered the ball on the run and the camera cuts to defensive coach Bill Yoast on the sidelines.

“Hold on to that ball Petey!” Yoast yells.

Hold on to that ball, Petey !

That certainly would be sage advice for the Wahoos this season.

A year ago, UVA committed 24 fumbles in 13 games (that’s 1.8 fumbles per game!) and that tied for 119th nationally. Only nine teams fumbled more than that. Fortunately, the Hoos only lost eight of those fumbles. Of the nation’s bottom 26 teams, Virginia was one of only three teams to lose fumbles in single digits. UVA and TCU posted a fumbles lost percentage of 33.3%, while Illinois sat at 29.2% among those 26 teams. That put those three teams among the nation’s top 13 teams in fumbles lost percentage despite the high number of fumbles.

That’s not a sustainable rate in all likelihood if you’re going to put the ball on the ground that much. Keep in mind, the Cavaliers still finished on the wrong side of the turnover margin number for the season at -1 and that number could have been much worse if more of those fumbles had gone the wrong way. The Hoos haven’t finished on the positive side of that statistic since 2014.

The good news is that fumbles weren’t as big of a problem in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season. The Cavaliers coughed up the ball just 14 times in 2016 (tied for 30th nationally), but lost 10 of those (71.4% lost, tied for 120th nationally). Prior to Mendenhall’s arrival, UVA experienced ups and downs in the fumbles category:

  • 2008 – 20 (tied for 51st nationally), (50.0% lost, tied for 52nd nationally)
  • 2009 – 21 (tied for 57th), (57.1%, tied for 86th)
  • 2010 – 19 (tied for 42nd), (31.6%, 11th)
  • 2011 – 23 (tied for 76th), (52.2%, tied for 58th)
  • 2012 – 15 (tied for 25th), (73.3% 118th)
  • 2013 – 29 (119th), (31.0%, tied for 6th)
  • 2014 – 17 (tied for 43rd), (47.1%, tied for 50th)
  • 2015 – 13 fumbles (tied for 10th), (46.2%, tied for 62nd)
  • 2016 – 14 (tied for 30th), (71.4%, tied for 120th)
  • 2017 – 24 (tied for 119th), (33.3%, tied for 10th)

As you can see from that list, the 24 fumbles last season were the second highest in the last decade for the program behind only 2013. The percentage lost was the third lowest of the past decade behind only 2010 and 2013. Over the 10-year span, the Cavaliers have committed 19.5 fumbles per season on average. Interestingly, the average percentage of fumbles lost landed at 49.3%. Roughly a 50/50 recovery/lost chance when you put the ball on the ground.

The big issue there for Virginia is that the offense already struggles to score consistently. The Cavaliers haven’t reached 26.0 points per game at any point in the last decade, a number that ranked 54th nationally in 2008 (Stanford) and 83rd nationally in 2017 (UNC). Clearly, offenses are scoring more and more points in college football. To win, you need to score more consistently. To score more consistently, you can’t give away possessions with turnovers like fumbles lost (again, basically a 50-50 chance of that each time you drop the ball).

In other words: Hold on to that ball Petey!

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. As I recall we recovered our first 9-10 fumbles of the year. It was one of the single biggest reasons we got off to a 5-1 start. I figured it would even out and it did—with the Chris sharpe fumble changing the entire completion of the vt game.

  2. Bill Barnwell, of Grantland fame, always talks about fumbles that you recover back as a luck thing. In other words, the number of balls put on the ground is the more important metric rather than the fumbles recovered. Using that, you can say we had a great year in 2016, and a completely awful one in 2017.

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