Rival camps have been formed on the issue of turnovers, with one arguing that turnovers are essentially random, and the other arguing that they're a sign of poor coaching. Both camps are wrong.
Turnovers aren't random. Not in the big-picture standpoint. I expected us to lose the turnover battle yesterday. I didn't know how we would, but I figured it would happen. It's not because we're "worse coached" than Iowa. It's because we're a younger team - particularly at QB, but also on defense. Here is the thing: young teams commit more turnovers than more experienced teams, and get fewer takeaways. The reason Phil Steele expects teams with lousy TO margins to improve the next year is not because of "regression to the mean," but because it usually means that they'll be more experienced the next season.
Young QBs throw more interceptions than experienced ones do. Almost any QB not named Reggie Ball will cut down on INTs as he gains experience, as the speed of the game slows down for him and he realizes that he doesn't have to force a play that isn't there. A year ago, Stanzi threw interceptions in every game he started, several of them returned for TDs. This year he's thrown two in seven games. It's not random variance, and it's not because Kirk Ferentz suddenly figured out how to coach quarterbacks. It's because Stanzi has matured and doesn't make as many bad reads as he once did.
So why are we throwing as many INTs as last year? Because we aren't really any more experienced at QB. In all three of RR's seasons, he's started a first-year QB. This is the first season in which he had the opportunity to start a returning starter, but that player (Forcier) was not the best fit for the offense, and lost his job. It's frustrating to see our QBs make bad reads, throw passes behind WRs, and so on. But that is likely a consequence of them not being experienced, and not some coaching deficiency on the part of RR, Magee, or Rod Smith. We can expect, in 2011, Denard to throw fewer interceptions than he does this season. (And yes, I agree that it's frustrating that in year three, we have to say, "Next year it'll be better." But that is how it's worked out.)
The other side of things is defense. Young defenders don't get many takeaways. They frequently find themselves out of position and blow more assignments than veterans who have been playing longer, watched more film, and can anticipate their opponents' moves more easily. A case in point is MSU. A year ago they ranked last in the conference in takeaways, with just 14. This year, with a lineup dominated by upperclassmen (especially in the back seven, which is responsible for pass coverage), they're getting a couple every game. Iowa, another team with a veteran defense, regularly gets a lot of interceptions. We get considerably fewer. The ones we have gotten have mostly come against - you guessed it - young QBs. We got three INTs against ND's three young guys, and a pair against BGSU's 2nd and 3rd-stringers. We're less likely to get them against experienced QBs like Cousins and Stanzi. The next three weeks, against three new QBs, we might have more of a chance.
In sum: when an experienced team goes up against an young team, expect the former to win the turnover battle. This is particularly true if the former has a veteran QB. If your team is young, expect to lose the TO battle regularly. That's how it goes.