Keep The Ball, Take The Ball - These Are Keys For Michigan State

Keep The Ball, Take The Ball - These Are Keys For Michigan State

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Keep The Ball, Take The Ball - These Are Keys For Michigan State

Turnover margin will be as important as anything else for Michigan State this season.  When the Spartans finished the 2016 season, the team was 98th in the nation in turnover margin. When the Spartans have had great success, they’ve done well in the turnover margin category.  

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There are countless tangibles that can be addressed when examining the success of the three-season stretch of 2013-2015.

It’s a stretch that stands as one of the greatest runs in Michigan State football history.

The Spartans went an astonishing 36-5 over those three seasons, won two Big Ten Championships, won the Rose Bowl, appeared in the College Football Playoff, and won the Cotton Bowl.

All of the familiar personalities that made up the core of that run are practically house hold names for Spartans and are the ones responsible for all of the accomplishments that have added to a proud Green & White history.

But, one of the more overlooked elements of that run is the following statistical eye-popper:

For those three seasons, Michigan State led the Big Ten in both turnover margin and takeaways.

When a team protects the football and minimizes turnovers, it enhances its chances to win lots and lots of games.

And when a team takes the ball away from opponents more than any other team in its conference, it enhances it chances even more to win lots and lots of games.

Over the course of last season’s dramatic turnaround 10-3 season, Michigan State re-established the priority of protecting the ball on offense and taking the ball away on defense.

In 2017, the Spartans wound up tied for 46th in the nation with a +3 turnover margin.

That was good for 7th place in the Big Ten in the all-important Turnover Margin statistical category.

Not bad – but not anything to commemorate, laminate, and place on the mantle above the fireplace.

Still, it was a key part of the turnaround.

What teams were ahead of the Spartans in 2017?

Penn State was +12.

Northwestern was +7.

Iowa was +7.

Ohio State was +5.

Wisconsin was +5.

Purdue was +4.

And what about the Spartans’ disastrous 2016 season?

When the wreckage of that season was finally being cleaned up, Michigan State had a turnover margin of -5, good for 98th in the nation and 10th in the Big Ten.

How did the teams ahead of Michigan State perform in the turnover margin part of the game in 2016?

Ohio State was +15.

Wisconsin was +12.

Northwestern was +9.

Minnesota was +8.

UMAA was +7.

Iowa was +6.

Nebraska was +5.

Penn State was +1.

Illinois was -2.

When we look at this statistical category (along with just about all of the others), it’s no wonder that the season was the worst for Michigan State since 1982.

We love Chuck Bullough.

His return to his alma mater is a somewhat under appreciated storyline as Michigan State prepares for the 2018 season.

Some of us might have even enjoyed cold refreshments with Chuck during his years as a Spartan terror at linebacker when he would have (and might have) run through a brick wall for George Perles.

The suspicion here is that Chuck is a bit more disciplined and focused both on and off the field now that he’s a grown man – and we say that admirably.

There is a lot of talk about how Chuck Bullough is instituting a “Ball Disruption” philosophy that stresses the importance of the defense prioritizing taking the ball away.

There is a grading system, points awarded to players for doing things in games and practices, code words, dancing, and pyrotechnics that all go towards the increased emphasis on the need for the defense to take the ball away.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of vexing, hand-wringing, chin-rubbing, or article writing to see what jumps out at anyone who can read:

2013-2015 Spartans: #1 in the Big Ten in turnover margin.

2016 Spartans: 98th in the nation and 10th in the Big Ten in turnover margin.

2017 Spartans: 47th in the nation and 7th in the Big Ten in turnover margin.

This suggests that when the team performs reasonably well in the turnover margin statistical category, there is a corollary impact on the amount of games that Michigan State wins.

I suspect that Spartan fans don’t really care if Chuck Bullough gives members of the defense tickets to the nearest Six Flags, coupons for discounts at The Olive Garden, a Turnover Chain that is Green & White and not a direct replica of that thing the Miami Hurricanes have made popular, or if Bullough tells the guys on defense that if they create a turnover, he’ll shake their hand and tell them he appreciates their effort.

What I suspect is that if the Michigan State defense finds a way to be motivated and focused on taking the ball away from opponents, that will have a direct impact on the team’s ability to win even more than it did in 2017.

It’s actually a bit impressive that the Spartans went 10-3 last season despite a fairly pedestrian +3 turnover margin in 2017.

Since the goals for 2018 include more than just beating UMAA, Chuck Bullough’s “Ball Disruption” strategy is going to be fun for everyone to observe.

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