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November 25, 2009

And You Think This Year's Team Has A Turnover Problem...

Look through the recent NCAA football record book, as I often do (just kidding), and you'll notice several past Georgia players, and one from the present, who hold Division I-A/FBS records. (Current linebacker Darryl Gamble and four others hold the record for most touchdowns scored on interception returns by a linebacker in a game with two)

Most of the individual records held by Georgia players are owned by Herschel Walker and Billy Bennett. 

There is a particular team record unfortunately held by Georgia that has caught my attention--Most Turnovers Lost in a single game.

Relating to this week's game with Georgia Tech and this season's theme of turnovers, I thought I'd explore Georgia's record of 13 turnovers against Georgia Tech in 1951.

My initial reaction in seeing the Bulldogs committed 13 turnovers in a single game was "how on earth does one team lose that many turnovers in one game?"  Current college football teams often don't even have that many offensive possessions in a game.  Georgia, for example, had 13 possessions against Kentucky, 12 versus Auburn, and only 10 against Tennessee Tech.  

I realize the game of football has changed over the last 50+ years but has it been transformed that much?

I was able to get my hands on a detailed, play-by-play account of the 1951 Tech-Georgia game and was reminded that, back then, teams often punted prior to fourth down if backed up towards its own goal line or faced with 2nd or 3rd down and long. 

The more occasions a particular team is punting prior to facing 4th down, the more possessions for the other team, thus, the more opportunities for the team to turn the football over. 

Entering the '51 Tech-Georgia game, the undefeated Yellow Jackets were headed to the Orange Bowl and an eventual national championship.  The Bulldogs, led by quarterback Zeke Bratkowski (Photo), had a record of just 5-4 and were significant underdogs to Tech.

As expected, Georgia Tech hammered Georgia 48-6, although Bratkowski threw for 195 yards and the Bulldogs had as many first downs (16) as the Jackets.

Georgia's undoing was its 13 turnovers (8 interceptions, 5 fumbles lost), err, make that 12 turnovers (8 interceptions, 4 fumbles lost). 

After examining the play-by-play account, I found that there was an error in the keeping of the game's statistics, which was not uncommon back then.

Before the last few decades and especially before the NCAA began releasing "official" statistics in 1937, game stats were often recorded haphazardly.  This appears to be the case with the '51 Tech-Georgia game.

On record, Georgia threw 8 interceptions, all by Bratkowski, and lost five fumbles while Tech threw one interception and lost four fumbles.  In actuality, Georgia lost four fumbles and Tech lost five--the game's statistician mistakenly swapped the teams' fumbles lost totals.

Georgia's four fumbles were lost by Lauren Hargrove, Bratkowski, Ellis McClung (the ball inadvertently hit his foot on a kickoff and bounced to a Tech man), and Conrad Manisera.

Georgia Tech's five fumbles were recovered by Georgia's Bobby Morris, Bob West, John Terrill, John Terrill again, and Charley Beckwith.

Georgia ran 65 offensive plays in 21 possessions.  Eight of these possessions ended in interceptions, seven punts, three lost fumbles (not including McClung's fumble on a kickoff), one drive ended with the first half, once the Bulldogs were stopped on downs, and once they scored a touchdown--a short run by Dick Raber early in the third quarter.

Of the 21 drives, 12 lasted just two plays or less because of a turnover or a quick kick/punt prior to 4th down.

Bratkowski was considered one of college football's greatest quarterbacks of his day and was the NCAA's all-time leading passer until 1961; however, the sophomore's first varsity game against Georgia Tech was one to forget.

Although "The Brat" completed 17 passes, including seven in a row at one point, nearly half of his 18 incompletions were completed to the opposing Yellow Jackets.  Bratkowski's eight interceptions remains a school record by two picks and are just one interception less than the NCAA record of nine.

Remarkably, six of Bratkowski's eight interceptions were thrown in the fourth quarter alone, including five in the final eight minutes of the game.  Georgia's last four plays of the game were all Bratkowski interceptions, the final three all picked off by Tech's Jack Patterson.

Georgia's NCAA record of 13 turnovers in a single game is difficult to comprehend and a little embarrassing, especially since it happened against the rival Techies.  However, as I found out, the total is actually 12 turnovers. (I know, I know.  What's the big deal, right?)

I contacted the statistics department at the NCAA asking if there ever was a team who committed 12 turnovers in a single game.  If so, it meant Georgia was not the sole holder, although unofficial and through just one individual's research, of the shameful record.

Jim Wright of the NCAA said they had no idea; all they had on file was Georgia's 13 turnovers and if any team had lost 12 in a game, the NCAA did not have it on record.

The bottom line is Georgia officially holds a bewildering but dubious single-game record that, in actuality, the Bulldogs may not own by themselves.

The chance some team in the future commits 14 turnovers in a single game is slim to none.  So, it appears Georgia will likely be forever the record holder for having lost 13 in a game, although an inaccurate total.

It certainly seems fitting to discover this during a season marred by many interceptions thrown and fumbles lost by the Bulldogs.


Anonymous said...

I once saw Georgia commit nine turnovers in a loss.

The strange thing was they only gave up 13 points.

Anonymous said...

Georgia needs just one more -4 turnover game to be the 2009 national co-champs in negative turnover margin.

-5 wins it outright.

Anonymous said...

Those nine turnovers were against Clemson in 1981.