Georgia limiting costly turnovers this season

photo Georgia head coach Mark Richt looks on in an NCAA college football game against Auburn Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 45-7. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia football coach Mark Richt didn't hesitate this week when asked what area has been the biggest reason for his team's 8-2 start.

"The turnover ratio, for sure," Richt said. "That's number one. We have not lost the turnover ratio in our win streak."

Indeed, the Bulldogs are a plus-9 in turnover ratio and have not lost that statistic since committing three turnovers and gaining two in their 45-42 loss to South Carolina on Sept. 10. Georgia is second only to top-ranked LSU (plus-15) in that category among Southeastern Conference teams.

Two years ago, in their final season under former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, the Bulldogs finished minus-16 in turnover margin.

"The biggest thing we've done is win the turnover battle," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "Our defense has done a great job of getting turnovers and getting us great field position, and we really haven't turned the ball over as an offense that much."

Yet Georgia is on track to have a similar turnover ratio as last year, when the Bulldogs finished plus-10 but went 6-7 for their first losing season since 1996.

The turnovers Georgia committed a year ago, of course, were far more lethal. Washaun Ealey fumbled inside the opposing 5-yard line in losses at South Carolina and Mississippi State. Caleb King fumbled in the waning moments of a 29-27 loss at Colorado, and Murray threw an interception in an overtime loss to Florida, which was having to use its punter as its field-goal kicker.

"Every game was so tight last year, and our turnovers are always something you can go back to and point at," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "It's been huge for us this year, and it's something that we stress as an offense and a team. You want to end every drive with a kick, whether it's an extra point, a field goal or a punt.

"Sometimes it's OK to punt. Don't give them a short field. Make them earn it."

With the exception of the South Carolina game, most of Georgia's miscues this year have resulted in minimal damage. Murray had an interception returned for a touchdown against Mississippi State, but Georgia was leading 24-3 at the time, and a fumble by tailback Isaiah Crowell last Saturday was followed by an Auburn fumble on the ensuing play.

The Bulldogs put their stamp on last week's 45-7 win over the Tigers when safety Bacarri Rambo returned a Clint Moseley interception 24 yards for a touchdown.

"The quarterback handles the ball on every snap, and your ability to affect the quarterback is very critical," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We have probably caused more fumbles than last year, and we've also gotten more sacks, so the guy hasn't had a chance to get rid of the ball, either.

"I think it's a continuation of doing what we've done, but affecting the quarterback is critical to getting turnovers, and that's in a lot of ways."

Georgia is a staggering plus-19 in turnover ratio since Grantham's arrival, and the 13 interceptions the Bulldogs have collected are nearing the 16 they amassed last year. The Bulldogs already have equaled their 10 fumble recoveries from a year ago, and they have caused 29 fumbles after forcing 22 last season.

Rambo ranks second nationally with 0.78 interceptions a game, and they all seem to be enjoying things.

"The DBs are doing a great job of getting interceptions," defensive end Abry Jones said, "and I think that's probably because the defensive line has done a better job of rushing the passer. When the ball is loose, we are really going after it."

Said cornerback Sanders Commings: "Most of the guys in our secondary played offense in high school, so whenever we have the opportunity to get our hands on the football, it makes the game so much more fun."

Grantham spent 11 seasons coaching in the NFL before coming to Georgia and said a team that wins the turnover battle by one has an 80 percent chance of winning. When it's plus-2, the chances increase to 90-92 percent.

"In pro ball you don't have to recruit, so you've got to do something," Grantham said. "So you do stats."

Odds and ends

Richt said after Wednesday's 90-minute indoor workout that Crowell is battling a sore knee but will play Saturday against Kentucky. ... Redshirt junior tailback Richard Samuel, who injured his ankle against Florida, has a chance to return for the SEC championship game if the Bulldogs make it.