Hot Reads: Week 1 TakeOpps Rankings
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: Week 1 TakeOpps Rankings

September 04, 2019

"Yeah, I'm happy with that part of it," Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said of Nebraska's five takeaways in the season opener. "The guys played hard, got the ball out."

Got the ball out.

Such a simple phrase, but perhaps the only piece of strategy available in what is a pretty random game. The turnover game, that is.

Nebraska's five takeaways against South Alabama has the Huskers tied for second in the country after one week. Only Arizona, which had six takeaways in a Week 0 loss at Hawaii, is ahead of the Huskers. The Wildcats were just the 29th team since 2000 to force six turnovers and lose. Nevada, which upset Purdue, and Boston College, which knocked off Virginia Tech, tied with the Huskers with five takeaways last week.

That's great for those teams, but how do they keep it up? That ends up being a pretty tough question to answer. It's a little like asking how do you win more coin flips than your opponent.

Flip more coins is the answer that makes the most sense. That's the basic idea behind Takeaway Opportunities (TakeOpps), a statistic I started messing with in 2018.

Here's how I described it then:

The theory here is pretty simple: Any team over the long haul will get half its fumbles and intercept about 20 percent of its passes defended, so the way to boost takeaway numbers is to try to create those opportunities.

Those opportunities are forced fumbles and passes defended. That's putting the ball, the opponent's ball in this case, at hazard. What happens from there is often up to the football gods. Tulane ranked sixth in TakeOpps at the end of the 2018 regular season, but 86th in actual takeaways. The Green Wave was 6.8 takeaways below its expected total, which is maddening if you're on the Tulane coaching staff but at least the team was putting itself in a position to force those turnovers. That's good defensive football in my mind.

On the other side of the coin, Ohio was fifth in TakeOpps at the end of the 2018 regular season and first in total takeaways, 6.8 ahead of its expected total. Turnover fate cuts both ways.

So TakeOpps, then, is an attempt to remove the random part. Which teams are the best at getting in position to force turnovers, whether they actually end up with them or not? It gives you an idea of which defenses are the most active on this front and, when combined with the actual takeaway numbers, which teams have been a little fortunate and which haven't.

Last year, the national average was forcing a TakeOpp on 7.5% of defensive snaps played. Through Week 1 this year (including Week 0), that number was at 7.26%. I'm planning to look at these ranking regularly throughout the season, so here's a starting point–the top 20 after one game.

TEAM TakeOpp% Takeaways (Rk) Actual-Expected (Rk)
Arizona State 17.19 2 (35) -2.2 (130)
Arkansas 14.75 3 (15) 1.2 (20)
Fresno St 14.10 4 (5) 1.2 (20
Ohio 13.85 1 (66) -0.8 (109)
Iowa 13.46 1 (66) -0.4 (89)
Michigan St 13.46 3 (15) -0.6 (98)
Stanford 13.33 4 (5) 1.5 (14)
Tulane 13.33 2 (35) -0.1 (76)
California 13.24 1 (66) -2.1 (129)
TCU 12.90 2 (35) 0.4 (49)
Arizona 12.82 6 (1) 3.4 (1)
Wisconsin 12.50 3 (15) 0.4 (49)
Kansas St 12.20 2 (35) 0.7 (36)
N. Carolina St 12.16 2 (35) -0.4 (89)
San Diego St 11.76 1 (66) -0.2 (78)
Minnesota 11.67 2 (35) -0.4 (89)
Texas A&M 11.48 4 (5) 2.6 (3)
Nebraska 11.39 5 (2) 2.6 (3)
Texas 11.25 3 (15) 0.9 (28)
Nevada 11.11 5 (2) 1.1 (25)

 

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