Husker turnovers: A look at Nebraska's slippery slope

By Dirk Chatelain / World-Herald staff writer

The evidence is crystal clear. Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NU’s turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, they’re 13-18. Against ranked teams, the contrast is even more stark: 8-1 when NU wins or ties in turnovers, 0-11 when it loses. Why hasn’t Nebraska joined the nation’s elite? More than anything, it’s turnovers. Too many giveaways, not enough takeaways. Look at the 25 winningest programs since 2008. NU is last in turnover margin — by far. In 2012, the problem got worse. Blame falls mostly on the offense. Nebraska’s 35 giveaways were second-to-last nationally — 20 more than Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida; 23 more than Kansas State. The last time any other college football team won nine games — let alone 10 — with a turnover margin as bad as 2012 Nebraska’s? Hawaii in 2002. NU is trying to win a race with its shoes untied. But there is hope. Notre Dame was second-to-last in turnover margin in 2011. The Irish cleaned it up and — voila! — a 12-0 regular season. Nebraska can do it, too. But first take a hard look at the past.

We've mapped out each of the 35 turnovers committed by the Nebraska football team during the 2012-13 campaign. Hover over each number (or tap it if you're on your tablet) to see when each turnover happened, who the opponent was, which player committed the turnover, the game circumstances and more. Move left to right, count them in order or pick at random, then leave your comments below and follow the discussion.

Nebraska football 2013 turnovers summary. Graphic by Matt Haney, The World-Herald

Plot represents point-of-turnover as opposed to where the play began. Photos by The World-Herald's Rebecca S. Gratz, Matt Miller, Alyssa Schukar, Ryan Soderlin and the Associated Press. Illustration by Matt Haney.

Fumble fingers

That’s the root of Nebraska’s turnover problem in 2012. The Husker defense produced 23 takeaways. Not great, not bad. The NU offense, on the other hand, gave it away 35 times, second-worst nationally. Twenty-two of those turnovers were fumbles. That’s worst in the country. How bad is it? Kansas State lost just three fumbles. Louisville lost five. Wisconsin six.

» Only eight Division I players lost six fumbles or more. Two of them — Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah — played for Nebraska.

» Over the past two years, only two Division I players have more than 20 fumbles. Army’s Trent Steelman has 23. Martinez has 29.

» Nebraska lost a staggering five fumbles on punt returns. Abdullah had three of those.

» The fumbles are not a one-year epidemic. The Huskers have put the ball on the ground 112 times the past three years. Second-worst is Georgia Tech with 99 fumbles.

» The difference in 2012 was the percentage of fumbles NU lost. The average D-1 team recovers approximately 50 percent of its fumbles. In 2010 and ’11, NU was lucky, recovering 64 percent and 66 percent. This year it recovered just 37 percent.

» How bad is NU’s ball handling? Consider that over the past five years, NU has more fumbles lost (77) than Alabama has total turnovers (72).

Tracking the trends: NU's turnover margin over the past 25 years

From 1988-2000, Nebraska football had a positive turnover margin every season except 1994. Since then, the Huskers have been positive just twice.

Over the last five seasons, the Huskers rank 17th nationally in winning percentage. But compare Nebraska to the 25 winningest programs over that span and it is by far worst in turnover margin. It’s hard to win when you’re among the nation’s worst in turnovers. Of teams with 30 or more giveaways in 2012, only two others managed a winning record — both were 7-6.Only three teams in the final AP poll had 25 or more giveaways. Here’s a look at the number of turnovers for each team.NU won the turnover battle in three of last season’s 14 games, and was even in three. The Huskers lost the turnover battle in the other eight games, losing four.

Getting the point

Eighteen of Nebraska’s 35 turnovers directly led to opponents’ scores, including 16 touchdowns. That’s 31 percent of foes’ total points against the Huskers.

In what game did turnovers hurt the Huskers most? Probably Ohio State. Martinez had two first-half interceptions. The Buckeyes returned the first for the game’s opening touchdown. The second pick set up another OSU touchdown.

Tell us what you think