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All Things CW: An In-Depth Look at Alabama's Fumbles, Turnovers During Nick Saban Era

Alabama's major miscues have been mostly few and far between, while the Crimson Tide excels at turning opposing mistakes into points.

The sack-and-strip that gave LSU a chance to steal the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday was a bit reminiscent of a couple of other games against Alabama during the the Nick Saban era, but otherwise something Crimson Tide fans haven't seen in a long time. 

Overall, yes, it was the Crimson Tide's 11th fumble of the season, which already tops last year's total. However, it was also just the fourth lost. 

It should be noted that a quick muffed punt or a ball that goes out of bounds like wide receiver Jameson Williams recently had, still counts as a fumble. 

Otherwise, Alabama's turnover numbers are very different from 2020. The Crimson Tide had 10 fumbles last season, and lost eight. Opponents had 25 and lost 10.

Through nine games this season, opponents have surprisingly had just six fumbles and lost three. 

Considering the Crimson Tide's offensive style of play, up-tempo and paced by a quarterback who is mobile, it shouldn't surprise anyone that sophomore Bryce Young has the most fumbles in 2021 with four, including two lost. 

Meanwhile, the running backs have lost just one fumble.

In 2020, the group lost three overall, including only one by Najee Harris.

Before him, Damien Harris finished his career with three fumbles, none lost.

“It’s just a mindset,” Damien Harris said in 2017. “If you don’t turn the ball over, you automatically give yourself a better chance to win.”

You have to go back to Mark Ingram II and Trent Richardson to find something comparable out of the Crimson Tide backfield. Ingram lost just two fumbles during his entire career, and Richardson one.

Specifically, Ingram had a fumble every 211 times he touched the ball (including carries, receptions, two returns and the one pass attempt), or a fumble lost every 317 touches.

Richardson had seven fumbles during his career with the only one lost against Ole Miss as a freshman. That’s an average of a fumble every 90.9 touches, but a fumble lost every 636 touches.

Generally, a fumble rate of one every 140 touches is considered impressive among running backs.

Derrick Henry? He had five at Alabama, with four lost, in 619 touches (ratios of 123.8 and 154.8, respectively).

Over his four-year Crimson Tide career, Najee Harris had two fumbles, with only one lost. That's out of 718 touches en route to becoming program's career rushing leader.

The fumbles by Damien Harris were out of 529 touches. 

Josh Jacobs had two career fumbles, both lost, out of 317 touches. 

In between those collective groups of running backs, Alabama saw a spike. For example, after having just four lost fumbles in 2011, which not only led the Southeastern Conference but tied Wake Forest for fewest at the Bowl Subdivision level, the Crimson Tide had 18 fumbles and lost 12 in 2014. It tied for 93rd in the nation out of 125 teams.

(If you’re wondering, the most by a Saban-coaching team was his last season at LSU in 2004, when the Tigers lost 15).

A couple of years later, Alabama coughed up 26 fumbles in 2016, and 20 the following season, but managed to recover more than half.

Alabama Fumbles (2007-21)

Year, Fumbles-lost

2007 20-8

2008 19-10

2009 16-7

2010 20-9

2011 12-4

2012 24-12

2013 14-10

2014 18-12

2015 12-7

2016 26-10

2017 20-7

2018 16-7

2019 9-4

2020 10-8

2021 11-4

Total: 247-119 (average 16.4-7.9)

Any fumble is obviously considered a bad thing, but when it comes from a quarterback at a key time it can be especially devastating. 

For example, the strip-and-sack of John Parker Wilson played a key part of LSU's 41-34 win in 2007, when the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes. 

In 2019, when trying to quickly come back from ankle surgery, Tua Tagovailoa lost control of the ball in the red zone, arguably resulting in an early 14-point swing. Eventual national champion LSU went on to win 46-41. 

In general, quarterbacks have become the most likely players to fumble if for no other reason than they handle the ball on nearly every snap, and are the most susceptible to a blindside hit. You factor in more snaps and RPOs, and the challenges are only increasing.

“When you get hit from the back side it’s so different,” former Alabama quarterback Jay Barker said. “You don’t see it coming.”

Not seeing the tackler is often what leads to a wide receiver or tight end losing the ball as well, although two players who never had a fumble during a combined 442 touches at Alabama were wide receivers Julio Jones and Amari Cooper.

Of the 10 Crimson Tide players who have fumbled at least seven times during the Saban era, most have been either quarterbacks or special-teams returners. Topping the list is former quarterback Jalen Hurts, although it should be noted that he had 11 with five lost as an 18-year-old true freshman.

Second is AJ McCarron, who was a three-year starter. 

Alabama Fumbles by Player (2007-21)

Player, Fumbles-lost (*includes pre-Saban years)

  1. Jalen Hurts (2016-17), 17 fumbles, 8 lost
  2. AJ McCarron (2010-13), 11-5
  3. John Parker Wilson (2005*-08), 11-4
  4. T.J. Yeldon (2012-14), 10-7
  5. Greg McElroy (2007-10), 10-5
  6. Kenyan Drake (2012-15), 7-6
  7. Glen Coffee (2005*-08), 7-4
  8. Blake Sims (2011-14), 7-4
  9. Javier Arenas (2006*-09), 7-2
  10. Trent Richardson (2009-11), 7-1

Just missing the list is Young, who as a sophomore has six career fumbles, with four lost. But he's also being asked to do more in an RPO-style offense at a younger age than most. 

With all that in mind, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

Although the Crimson Tide has never led the nation in turnover margin under Saban, it’s been a huge part of Alabama’s success. The coach calls it “one of the most significant statistics in winning and losing.”

Only once under Saban has Alabama not had a plus-turnover ratio (turnovers gained minus those lost), 2014, which was one of the years it didn’t play for the national title.

Alabama’s Turnover Ratio

Season Gained Lost Margin Rank

2007 24 20 +4 34

Read More

2008 25 19 +6 32

2009 24 12 +12 4

2010 26 14 +12 T11

2011 20 12 +8 23

2012 29 15 +14 13

2013 19 17 +2 T48

2014 20 22 -2 T71

2015 27 17 +10 T21

2016 29 19 +10 17

2017 24 10 +14 T5

2018 21 15 +6 34

2019 28 10 +18 3

2020 22 12 +10 18

2021 15 7 +8 T12

Over its last 187 games, dating back to the start of the 2008 season, Alabama has turned the ball over only 201 times (111 fumbles, 90 interceptions) for 1.07 turnovers per game.

Since 2009, the Crimson Tide has turned the ball over only 183 times in 175 games (1.05 average). The 183 turnovers since 2009 include 72 interceptions in 4,589 attempts (one interception for every 63.7 attempts) by Alabama starting quarterbacks and 31 lost fumbles in 4,675 carries.

That's one fumble lost every 150.8 carries by the Crimson Tide’s top two running backs.

But here's where it pays off the most, points off turnovers. 

Alabama's number aren't just good since 2016, they're outstanding, including this season: 

Alabama Points Off Turnovers

Year: Alabama-Opponent

2014: 77-67

2015: 76-51

2016: 136-34

2017: 101-20

2018: 111-24

2019: 135-45

2020: 104-35

(2021: 75-17 so far)

NCAA Fires back at Oklahoma State 

SEC fans may want to take notice of the statement made by the NCAA on Thursday in the wake of a decision to uphold Oklahoma State's postseason ban in basketball. 

"Comments by Oklahoma State personnel regarding its infractions case resulted in NCAA volunteer committee members and staff receiving threatening and offensive messages after being identified by name. This is unacceptable.

"Oklahoma State personnel encouraged individuals to circumvent the NCAA member-created process that every school agrees to participate in as part of their responsibility to each other. Further, there is a troubling trend of misstating facts about the infractions process by schools that disagree with the infractions outcomes. Each member has the ability to seek change to the Division I infractions process, and there is a review group underway looking at how to improve the process.

"This is also a clear example of the work that needs to be done to address issues and behaviors like this moving forward with the new NCAA Constitution and Division I Transformation process. We know that an adverse decision can be emotional, but personal attacks against individuals simply carrying out their responsibilities are inappropriate, unethical and potentially dangerous."

The statement was signed by NCAA Board of Governors chair John J. DeGioia, NCAA Division I Board of Directors chair and president at Georgia Jere Morehead, and NCAA President Mark Emmert.

The next three big rulings/decisions are expected to be on North Carolina State (and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried), Auburn and LSU. 

Odds Are in Alabama's Favor 

According to BetOnline, if Alabama and Georgia meet up (it was listed as a College Football Playoff Game, but we have to think the line would be the same for the SEC Championship Game), the No. 1 Bulldogs would only be favored by two points. 

As for other potential postseason matchups:

Ohio State vs. Alabama -4

Oklahoma vs. Alabama -10

Cincinnati vs. Alabama -13

Oregon vs. Alabama -15

Coach O Doesn't Go Quietly

Earlier this week, LSU coach Ed Orgeron was asked what he thought of Alabama after reviewing the game film of the 20-14 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

“I felt we were a better team than them,” he said. "I don’t know if they played to their peak performance or not, but I felt we matched up pretty good."

Although the Tigers lost, it was a far cry from last year's 55-17 pounding. 

"I can’t judge how good they are," he added. "They aren’t as good as they were in the past. They might be the best team in the country; I don’t know. But they weren’t that night.”

No one's going to argue that point. 

NFL Tide-bits

• The Titans dismantling of the Rams sent shock waves around the league as Tennessee was without Henry, who could miss most of the regular season after having foot surgery. The defense was also without interior linebacker Rashaan Evans, who is in a contract year (see video). He'll be a player to watch the rest of the season.

• Speaking of Henry, he hasn't played this month and yet still leads the NFL in rushing yards this season with 937. Jonathan Taylor is second with 821. 

• If wide receiver Calvin Ridley says he had to step away from football it was the right decision and no one should question it. However, the Atlanta Falcons have suddenly won three of its last four games. In those wins, quarterback Matt Ryan has had six touchdown passes and just one interception.  

• Brian Burns isn't buying Mac Jones' explanation that he thought the Panthers edge rusher had the ball when he grabbed his ankle and twisted him down. "Watching the replay and watching all the angles and everything that they got, I think it’s some bull,” Burns said via SI Patriots.“Even if you thought I had the ball, it’s not legal to trip somebody or to leg sweep somebody, let alone twist ankles, or whatever … it’s not legal to do that. And like everybody else ran past us. If I had the ball, don’t you think I’d be getting tackled? Or your teammate would help? So I don’t think it’s cool, but it’s whatever.” He added: “I feel like he tried to twist it, personally,” Burns said.“After watching the video, and looking at whatever happened, and then him just walking away, you feel me? Like he don’t … like it was just everything didn’t seem right about it. Like all right I’m down there in pain, whatever the case may be. And he just kinda looked at me and walked off like he did his job, or some bull like that. But yeah, after seeing that, that’s when I realized like, damn.” Burns said he isn't expecting an apology. On the flip side, when was the last time a pass rusher apologized for making an illegal hit on a quarterback?

Carson Tinker and Ingram. Enough said: 

Did You Notice?

• Commissioners Mull Alternate 12-Team Playoff Expansion Mode

• Steve Sarkisian Addresses Video of Texas Coach (Bo Davis) Cursing Out Team

• The Rylan Griffen Blog: This is Why I Committed to Alabama …

• SI's Preseason Expert Predictions: Men's Final Four, National Champ and More

Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears weekly on BamaCentral.