Alabama By the Numbers: Fumbles

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: DeQuan Menzie #24 of the Alabama Crimson Tide recovers a fumble in front of teammate Robert Lester #37 and Andrew Szczerba #80 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Lou Holtz once explained that fumbling the football was something that could be avoided simply by following the correct procedure. And what, exactly, did that entail?

"You take the ball, you put it in the proper position and then you squeeze the ball until you hear the ball go, 'Pssshhhh.' And then when you do that, you back off a little bit."

If the Crimson Tide were following Lou's advice they must have gone through a lot of pigskins during fall practice last year because fumbling the football didn't happen a lot last season. Alabama finished 2011 with just a dozen drops. Only two teams -- Wisconsin and Ball State -- managed fewer fumbles over the course of the season.

Here's a look at the Tide's total number of drops in comparison with the Tide's opponents for each season since 2007. (The raw numbers for all these graphs can be found after the jump.)

Fumbles per Game 2007-2011

Source: RollTide.com

Alabama's 12 fumbles last season marked a 40% improvement over 2010 and the fewest the team has amassed in Nick Saban's half-decade tenure at the Capstone. The next best sure handed Crimson Tide squad was, unsurprisingly, the 2009 BCS National Champions. That squad's 16 fumbles was good enough for a tie at 21st in the nation that season.

One absolutely astonishing bit of information we discovered researching this post is that last season Alabama went six games without fumbling at all (Penn State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida, Ga. Southern and LSU in the BCS National Championship game). That's as many fumble-less games as the Tide managed in the previous two seasons combined (2 in 2010; Tennessee, Ga. State and 4 in 2009; Arkansas, Kentucky, Miss. State and UT Chattanooga).

So while the total number of drops was pared back, the next question is how many of those fumbles did the Tide recover?

Fumble Recovery Percentage 2007-2011

Source: RollTide.com

So, as we pointed out last year, the Crimson Tide's opponents were vastly more likely to pick up their fumbles than Alabama in 2010. Essentially the bad guys recovered four out of five fumbles they made while the Tide got just better than half the ones they dropped. And, as we expected, it seems the football gods were far more reasonable in 2011 as Alabama picked up better than two thirds of their fumbles while opponents just topped 60%.

Remember, the argument -- as posited by Football Outsiders and SB Nation's Bill Connelly -- is that fumble recoveries are random events. If that's the case then, over time, the percentage should be nearer to the median than the outliers. So any year that fumble recoveries show an unusual swing away from 50% we should expect it to be nearer to that mark the next season (which is not to say it will compensate by going the other direction).

Yet, there seems to be a mistaken assumption with our assessment above since splitting the amount of drops and recoveries between teams is an arbitrary division of the data. We should be looking at Alabama's recovery percentage of all fumbles. So, to address this, we went back and looked at the overall fumble numbers over the past decade:

Alabama Total Fumble Recovery Percentage 2007-2011

Source: RollTide.com

So, yeah, the football gods really were pretty much against us with a vengeance in 2010. And for some reason they seem to have really really liked Mike Shula. Those outliers aside, if you look at the fumble recovery percentage for the entire decade it comes out to almost exactly 50% (.499 to be precise). Which pretty much is what we expected given our hypothesis about the randomness of fumble recoveries.


An index of all the Alabama By the Numbers articles can be found on Roll Bama Roll's Facebook page.

Now one last thing we did while digging through all the stats on RollTide.com was make a tally of which players were responsible for dropping the ball over the past four seasons. Keep in mind, these are total fumbles not just fumbles lost. Very often players tend to get labeled as fumble prone simply because a few lost drops that were critical to the outcome of a given game stick in our mind. Meanwhile other players whose fumbles didn't lead to turnovers might actually be less able to take care of the ball.

Now we weren't sure exactly what TEAM fumbles designated so we went back to the game tapes to see. It seems these are mostly bobbled snaps where the person to blame for the fumble isn't clear. It is also likely that a few of these designate busted handoffs as well.

2011 2010
Player Fumbles
Marquis Maze 2
AJ McCarron 2
DeAndrew White 2
TEAM 1
Harrison Jones 1
Eddie Lacy 1
Trent Richardson 1
Blake Sims 1
Phillip Sims 1
Player Fumbles
Greg McElroy 6
Trent Richardson 4
Marquis Maze 3
Eddie Lacy 2
TEAM
1
Jalston Fowler 1
Mark Ingram 1
Robert Lester 1
AJ McCarron 1
2009 2008
Player Fumbles
TEAM 6
Greg McElroy 4
Trent Richardson 2
Javier Arenas 1
Darius Hanks 1
Mark Ingram 1
Roy Upchurch 1
x
x
Player Fumbles
Glen Coffee 5
Javier Arenas 4
John Parker Wilson
4
TEAM 1
Earl Alexander 1
Mark Barron 1
Mark Ingram 1
Marquis Johnson 1
Roy Upchurch 1

Again, Alabama players just didn't fumble much in 2011. No player dropped the ball more than twice last year -- a precipitous drop from the previous three seasons. One thing that stands out in light of that is how much better AJ McCarron takes care of the ball in comparison with his two predecessors, Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson. This may be a reflection on the quality of offensive line play last year as well as the offensive scheme. We'll look into that a bit more later in the week.

Another interesting point is the contrast between Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram fumbled the ball just three times in his career at the Capstone while Richardson did so on a total of seven occasions. But only one of Richardson's fumbles was picked up by the opposing team while two of Ingram's were (and, goodness, were they both at the worst possible times). Compare that to Glen Coffee who fumbled five times in 2008 alone leading to three turnovers.

Total Fumbles
Alabama Opponent
2011 12 18
2010 20
19
2009 16
17
2008 19
20
2007 20
15

Fumble Recovery Percentage
Alabama Opponent
2011 67% 61%
2010 55% 79%
2009 56% 59%
2008 47% 50%
2007 60% 67%

Total Fumbles & Recoveries
Total Fumbles Total Recovered
2011 30 15
2010 39 15
2009 33 16
2008 39 19
2007 35 17
2006 41 20
2005 35 19
2004 37 21
2003 43 25
2002 57 27
TOTAL 389 194

Statistical note: For much of these more in-depth analyses we are relying on the numbers provided by Alabama Athletics on RollTide.com. We have used the NCAA numbers available on CFB Stats to compare Alabama's performance across college football but those are not as detailed as the UA information. In addition, there are slight discrepancies between the two sets of data.

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