Mark Richt has said that changing the turnover ratio has been an emphasis in camp. Just how bad was the turnover ratio for Georgia last year? It was really bad...Georgia was 118th out of 120 teams and posted a -1.23 turnover margin for the year. The two teams below Georgia were Miami of Ohio (1-11) and Tulane (3-9). Who else shared this rare air with Georgia? Try North Texas (2-10), Michigan (5-7), Western Kentucky (0-12), North Carolina State (5-7), Hawaii (6-7) and San Diego State (4-8). Should I continue? No, I think you get the point. If you lose the turnover battle to the degree that Georgia did then it's almost impossible to have a winning record. Somehow Georgia won 8 games last year despite giving the other team the ball 1.23 more times then we had it every game. Georgia was 99th in the country with 28 turnovers lost last year (11 fumbles which tied for 61st and 17 interceptions which was 105th). In terms of takeaways the Willie Martinez led Georgia defense was 118th in the Nation tied with Miami of Ohio. Georgia was actually dead last in fumbles recovered with only 2 and placed 76th with 10 interceptions.
If we look at a game by game breakdown we see that Georgia lost the turnover margin in the following games by 3 or more turnovers: Florida (lost TO margin by 4 and lost game 41-17), Kentucky (lost TO margin by 4 and lost game 34-27), Oklahoma State (lost TO margin by 3 and lost game 24-10). Georgia overcame a TO margin of -2 against Arkansas, South Carolina and Arizona State to win but were not as lucky against Tennessee. The only game that Georgia won the TO margin by 2 or more (it was 2) was in a win against Auburn. Just by looking at that you can see that if Georgia can fix this part of their game that they easily could have won 2 more games last year (we won't take the time here to complain about blown calls because that gets into the human factor of the referees: see also AJ Green against LSU).
I think a key for Georgia in decreasing the number of turnovers offensively is the maturing of the offensive line. Early in last season the offensive line played poorly but as the season went on Georgia was able to find a line that worked well together and they started to establish a strong running game. Early in the season Georgia had to depend on Joe Cox to try and win them games and often it resulted in Joe throwing passes that he shouldn't have. In the first 8 games of the year Cox threw 12 interceptions. But as the line came together and the running game improved Cox performed better down the stretch and only threw 3 interceptions in his last 5 games (a stretch that Georgia went 4-1 with wins over Georgia Tech, Auburn and Texas A&M). Aaron Murray takes over for Joe Cox this year and while Aaron hasn't been in the program as long as Joe was, I feel that Aaron is being set up better for success. The reason I say that is that Georgia has more weapons that have been developed in the offense than Joe had. When Joe took over he had AJ Green but Georgia didn't know who their RB would be (it turned out to be Richard Samuel who has since been moved to LB), they didn't know if they had a steady option at TE (Aron White was recently named to the Mackey Watch list this year and he's not even the starter as Orson Charles is poised for a break-out soph year) and the OL did not gel from the start of the season. This year Aaron has two established RBs (Washaun Ealey and Caleb King), still has AJ Green, he has two good TEs and Georgia can go 4 deep at that position, he also has a matured offensive line (although there has been some pre-season injuries that will hopefully remain minor and work themselves out by the South Carolina game), and I won't even mention that he might have the best fullback in all of college football. I'm not here to bash Joe Cox but I think Georgia will be better this year with Aaron Murray because Aaron will be asked to do less than Joe was asked to do at the beginning of last season.
The key for Georgia increasing the amount of turnovers on defense has already been started. It was started when Mark Richt hired Todd Grantham from the Dallas Cowboys. It was continued when Grantham and Richt got DB coach Scott Lakatos from UConn and LB coach Warren Belin from Vandy. The style that Georgia played on defense last year was hard to watch. It was a lay back and wait for the offense to come to you approach and it was the reason that Georgia did not produce turnovers. Guys were not put into positions to make plays. Grantham and the rest of the coaching staff are working to improve this by putting pressure on the offense and bringing the fight to them. Wouldn't you rather throw the first punch than give your opponent a free shot at your chin? I don't know how quickly the defense will translate onto the field but despite losing 6 defensive starters I think Georgia has the athletes and has the talent to run this defense. The LB core is a bit overlooked as guys like Justin Houston, Darryl Gamble and Cornelius Washington can be playmakers and Akeem Dent and Marcus Dowtin should be able to play the role of the steady guys in the middle. Houston is a guy that I think will really benefit from this style and Gamble has always been a guy who has had a nose for the football. In the defensive backfield we lose Rashad Jones but he always looked out of position in Willie's defense. I think the safety position will be improved this year with the 3-man rotation of Baccari Rambo, Nick Williams and Jakar "Hitman" Hamilton (and it's looking like freshman Alec Ogletree is pushing for playing time somewhere on the field). The corners (Brandon Boykin, Branden Smith and Vance Cuff) are going to be asked to be more physical with WRs and are going to be asked to play more man to man so they will be able to use their athleticism more than last year but it will be interesting to see how quickly they adapt to the style. Georgia lost 3 DL to the NFL last year but really only Geno Atkins had a big impact on the field this year. Georgia's started along the line Demarcus Dobbs, DaAngelo Tyson and Abry Jones look solid. The key for Georgia is finding depth in the line and having guys like Kwame Gathers, Justin Anderson, Brandon Wood and maybe a freshman or two step up. By moving to the 3-4 I think Georgia will be able to cause more turnovers (especially fumbles as there will be faster and more athletic guys on the field and coming in at unexpected angles) it's just a question of how quickly the offense will come together.
I'm optimistic about Georgia's chances of improving their turnover margin (it would be hard not to improve it) and if we can improve in that metric it could bring anywhere from 1 to 3 more victories to the Dawgs.