clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Turnovers aren't the problem for Northwestern's offense; Everything else is

And if a focus on limiting turnovers leads to a more conservative gameplan, that's a mistake.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

After yet another putrid offensive performance that saw Northwestern plummet in both the national rankings and the F/+ ratings, Pat Fitzgerald brought up in his weekly press conference what has been, to him, a major concern.

Indeed, giving the ball to the other team is not the best way to win football games, and turning the ball over three times against Iowa was not optimal. However, that this was a major takeaway for Fitz — and that it appears to be a focus, if not the focus, in practice this week — is pretty concerning, given everything else that's wrong with Northwestern football's offense right now. In fact, when looking at Bill Connelly's five factors that contribute to winning football games, turnovers are really the only thing NU isn't terrible at.

Northwestern offense five factors

Stats National Rank
Efficiency 100
Explosiveness 119
Field Position 124
Finishing Drives 98
Turnover Margin 56

And for those who don't like advanced stats, here are the simple stats.

Stat National Rank
Yards Per Play 126
Total Offense 94
Pass Yards Per Game 120
Pass Yards Per Attempt 124
Rush Yards Per Game 44
Rush Yards Per Attempt 89
Points Per Game 117
Turnover Margin 64
Red Zone TD Percentage 127

So anyways, Northwestern is just fine when it comes to turnover margin, and really, really bad when it comes to pretty much everything else. Sure, fix up the turnovers, but the problem comes when that gets in the way of more important improvements.

Usually, when a coach says they're going to try to reduce turnovers, it means they're going to be as risk-averse as possible and play conservatively with the ball. That works if you can beat people straight up — i.e., what Iowa did to Northwestern — but when your offense has shown time and again that it can't do that, it's going to have problems the more conservative it goes.

That's particularly true this week, as NU goes on the road to face a good Nebraska offense that is coupled with a great rush defense and a terrible pass defense. How bad is that pass defense? Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner, who got shut out and benched against Northwestern, completed all of his first nine passes against the Huskers. The way to beat Nebraska is to test the Huskers and make them pay down the field, even if it leads to a mistake or two along the way.

So don't turn it over, sure. But if NU goes into Lincoln with a risk-averse gameplan against a defense that's begging to give up big plays — it ranks 107th nationally in IsoPPP, or opponent explosiveness — then the Wildcats certainly aren't coming home with a win.