Stripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill. There is no correlation whatsoever between the percentage of fumbles recovered by a team in one year and the percentage they recover in the next year…
Turnovers, and the lack thereof: that, Lobos football coach Bob Davie said on Tuesday, is the factor that most explains why his 2013 team has three victories through nine games and his 2012 squad had four at the same juncture.
“I think we’re a better team right now (than last year at this time),” Davie said at UNM’s weekly fall-sports luncheon. “In fact, I know we’re a better team than we were a year ago, even on defense.
“The difference (is turnovers).”
Last year after nine games, the Lobos (4-5) had 20 turnovers to their credit: 13 defensive fumble recoveries (of 20 fumbles), seven interceptions.
This year, UNM (3-6) has 10: six fumble recoveries (of 13 possible), four interceptions.
As for the deficit in interceptions and fumble-recovery opportunities, perhaps the explanation is youth.
Strong safety Matt Raymer, last season’s leader in forced fumbles with four, is gone. Also departed is cornerback Destry Berry, last year’s co-leader (with linebacker and current Lobo Dallas Bollema) in interceptions with three.
As for defensive fumble-recovery percentage – 65 percent after nine games last year, 46 percent this year – well, oblong spheroids take peculiar paths.
“It’s a little good fortune (involved), Davie said. “As coaches you hate to ever say that, because last year we were really proud of our emphasis on creating turnovers and forcing turnovers.
“It will all even out over a period of time, but right now it’s a huge factor because we have a hard time getting stops.”
The poster child for fumble futility might have occurred at Wyoming, when at least three Lobos had a shot at a Brett Smith fumble before any Wyoming player did. Yet, the ball eluded the Lobos.
Wyoming didn’t score on that possession, but the Lobos started their next drive on their 8-yard line instead of the Cowboys 32. They did not score on that drive and lost, 38-31.
No amount of turnovers could have prevented UNM’s lopsided loss to Utah State. It didn’t help, however, that the Lobos couldn’t corral an Aggies fumble in the first quarter. Utah State scored on that drive to go up 14-0.
Against Air Force, the Lobos led 14-0 when outside linebacker Rashad Rainey forced a Falcons fumble. But Air Force recovered and scored on that drive.
In the three games that remain on UNM’s schedule, starting Saturday with Colorado State (5-5, 3-2), the Lobos will be decided underdogs. It stands to reason that UNM cannot be minus-turnovers and win any of the three.
“We’ve known since we walked in here,” Davie said, “that to run the ball was important, and to cause turnovers on defense was important.
“If we have to be out there (on defense) for an extremely long time and we have to execute play after play, we’re gonna have a hard time.”
IT WAS BRANCH: The official statistics from the Air Force game did not identify the UNM player who recovered the Falcons’ surprise onside kick attempt in the third quarter, with the game tied at 21.
That player was sophomore safety Brandon Branch, and Davie on Tuesday called the former Albuquerque Academy Charger’s play the biggest of a game the Lobos won, 45-37.
“They take the first drive of the second half (for a touchdown), they get even with us … then they surprise onside,” Davie said. “If they get the ball there, they probably score.
“(Branch’s recovery) was a heck of a play.”