Difficult, but not impossible.
“I think the overriding factor is turnovers,” Coach Mark Richt said. “Let’s face it, if we turn it over once a game or two times a game, I think our record would be different right now.”
During a 1-3 October, the Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3 SEC) turned the ball over 3.75 times per game. Georgia already has more turnovers (22) than in any season under Richt except 2002, when they had 23 in 14 games.
The turnover battle is the most important statistic in every game, said Richt, and the numbers around the league this year suggest giveaways are a crippling, but not insurmountable, flaw. In the 31 games between Southeastern Conference teams this season, the team with fewer turnovers has won 16 times; the team with more has won nine times, and the turnovers have been even in six games.
Georgia’s turnovers this season have come in bunches. The Bulldogs have turned the ball over five times in each of the last two games.
“It’s kind of a miracle we were in that (Florida) game,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
Nobody in the SEC has turned the ball over more than Georgia, which also is worst in the league in turnover margin at minus-six. Bulldog opponents have scored 154 points off turnovers this year. Only Vanderbilt (182), Ole Miss (228), Mississippi State (245) and Kentucky (246) have given up more.
What can be done to slow the turnover tide? Georgia is going to have to live with some from Stafford, a true freshman still learning his way. Stafford has more interceptions (nine) than any SEC quarterback other than Ole Miss’ Brent Schaeffer (10).
While some interceptions can’t be avoided, there are ways Stafford can improve, Richt said.
“You can definitely get better at not throwing the ball up for grabs which he did for sure once (against Florida),” he said.
As for the fumbles?
“The first thing you do is you remove the player who is doing it,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer.
That’d be a problem for the Bulldogs. Like the rest of their offensive issues, the fumbles have been democratically divided.
Stafford, wide receiver/punt returner Mikey Henderson and running back Kregg Lumpkin each have two, and Joe Tereshinski, Danny Ware and Mohamed Massaquoi have one a piece. (One team fumble was charged when an errant punt hit Kelin Johnson’s foot and was recovered by Florida.)
Ware sometimes feels he’s the only player on the team whose playing time has been negatively affected by turnovers, he said.
“I guess I had more than my share my freshman year and that might be under my belt a little bit,” he said. “I believe in starting over on a clean slate, but it’s just been one of those things where they get to go back in and try to redeem themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe that’s the right thing to do.”
Running backs coach Tony Ball said his backs have been guilty of not carrying the ball properly in recent games. When Lumpkin was stripped to start the second half against Florida, he was carrying the ball too low, Ball said.
“I know he got hit as soon as he got the handoff, but that shouldn’t happen,” Ball said. “To me, that’s Football 101. As soon as you take the handoff, that ball should be high and tight. At that split second, he was not focused and ready to go.”
Lumpkin acknowledged that the fumbles “are becoming a habit.”
Georgia’s coaches are emphasizing ball security more but haven’t upped the ball drills at practice, Lumpkin said. Ware would like to see more drills, he said.
“If you don’t do anything,” he said, “it’ll probably get worse.”
That’s hard to imagine.
Turnovers through the year
Season Games Fumbles INTs Total
2006 9 10 12 22
2005 13 11 7 18
2004 12 14 5 19
2003 14 6 12 18
2002 14 13 10 23
2001 12 9 11 20