Bob Davie said he didn’t want to write the news media’s stories for them, but he kind of did — or, at least, contributed the theme:
“One thing that’s really affected our team this year that’s been different for us is the turnover margin,” Davie said during his weekly Tuesday news conference. “I hate to bring up a negative statistic and kind of write your story for you, but we’re about 104th in turnover margin right now out of 129 teams.”
Davie is being just a little too hard on his Lobos (3-4 overall, 1-3 in Mountain West Conference play). In fact, UNM ranks 103rd nationally in turnover margin at minus-five. The Lobos rank 10th in the Mountain West.
Turnover margin often has been cited as the most important statistic in football, and the Lobos’ stats from 2015-17 generally conform with the theory.
During that span, UNM has gone 19-14. Only twice among those 19 victories has it won while having a negative turnover margin — against Louisiana-Monroe last fall and at Tulsa this season. In those 19 victories, it is plus-14.
Among the 14 losses, not once has it had a positive turnover margin. In those games, it is minus-16.
Of course, turnover margin isn’t always the dominant statistic.
In last year’s Louisiana-Monroe game, UNM lost three fumbles — but rolled up 622 yards running and passing in a 59-17 romp. The Lobos overcame an interception and two lost fumbles at Tulsa with 338 yards on the ground (and a crucial interception by free safety Bijon Parker).
This year, the Lobos were a mere minus-one in their game at Fresno State. But it was their mere 109 yards rushing that doomed them to a 38-0 defeat.
Even so, turnover margin played a key role in UNM’s other three 2017 defeats.
Against New Mexico State (minus-two) and Boise State (minus-two), short fields provided by UNM turnovers helped the Aggies and the Broncos take early leads.
And last Friday against Colorado State, a fumble by running back Richard McQuarley at the CSU 35 destroyed an opportunity to tie the game at 24 in the fourth quarter. From there, the Rams drove for a 52-yard field goal that eventually provided the winning margin.
Nine of UNM’s 14 turnovers this year have been the result of fumbles. The Lobos have put the ball on the ground 16 times in seven games. Last fall, en route to a 9-4 record, UNM fumbled 17 times all season, losing eight.
“All of a sudden, we’ve kind of caught the fumble-itis thing,” Davie said.
But then, there’s the flip side. New Mexico quarterbacks have thrown just five interceptions, but that’s one more than the UNM defense has produced — even though opponents have thrown far more passes.
“The turnover margin is something that’s critical as we get into these last five games,” Davie said. “We have to be better.”
FURTHER REVIEW: Davie said the Mountain West office has told him that a holding penalty called against Colorado State early in the fourth quarter should have been ruled as having occurred in the CSU end zone. If called correctly, the play would have resulted in a safety. The Lobos trailed 24-17 at the time. The safety would have made it 24-19, and UNM would have gotten the ball back via a free kick.
Instead, the holding was ruled as having happened outside the end zone on a fourth-down play. The Lobos declined the penalty and CSU punted. But McQuarley fumbled on the next play.
Davie said he was also told that a tripping penalty against McQuarley on UNM’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive was an incorrect call.
The penalty pushed UNM back from the CSU 16-yard line to the 31. The Lobos managed to score, regardless, pulling within three points, but might have done so earlier had the penalty not been called.
As it was, UNM’s Jalin Burrell recovered the ensuing onside kick. But with just 22 seconds left, the Lobos were unable to get within range for a game-tying field goal.
Lobo Turnovers, 2015-17
2015 wins (7): Plus-11
2015 losses (6): Minus-7
2016 wins (9): Plus-2
2016 losses (4): Minus-3
2017 wins (3): Plus-1
2017 losses (4): minus 6
New Mexico at Wyoming
5:30 p.m., ESPNU, 770 AM