Stat to watch: Turnover margin

With USC playing countless close games in the past three seasons, turnover margin has become an important statistic to monitor. On the one hand, each turnover created presents USC’s offense with a shorter field to work with. On the other hand, turning the ball stalls drives and hands momentum to the opponent. In the previous four seasons, the Trojans managed to either have a neutral or positive turnover margin.

USC Turnover Margin

2007: +2

2008: +7

2009: 0

2010: +4

2011: -2

USC is currently tied with UCLA for the ninth worst turnover margin in the conference, and ranks 89th nationally. In the first two games of 2011, turnovers prevented the Trojans from sealing victories well before the final minutes.

With a 19-3 lead, USC moved the ball to the Minnesota 35-yard line before a botched snap rolled back 35 yards and gave the Golden Gophers life. On the ensuing possession, tailback Duane Bennett ran the ball in for six and cut in to the USC lead.

Against Utah, three turnovers stopped USC from cruising to a comfortable victory. Up 10-0, Matt Barkley drove the Trojans to the Utes’ 21-yard line, but the drive ended in an interception. After the USC defense forced a punt, the offense drove the ball down to the Utah 12-yard line before fumbling and leaving points off the board again. Up 17-7 in the 3rd quarter, tight end Xavier Grimble fumbled while diving forward in Utah territory for extra yards.

USC has survived the negative turnover margin so far, but the schedule gets harder beginning this week. As the competition increases, the margin for error decreases, and the better USC is at winning the turnover battle, the better its record will be.