Ball-possession – protecting it when the Rebels have it, taking it away when they don't – has been a point of emphasis for Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt this season.
Follow the turnover margin, and you'll often find teams who succeed there finish with more wins than losses.
In the top 35 teams ranked in turnover margin by the NCAA in 2010, only four – Georgia at No. 19, Rutgers at No. 20, Iowa State at No. 30 and Oregon State at No. 3 – had losing records.
Perusing some Ole Miss numbers yesterday I found it interesting that the Rebels haven't finished with a positive turnover margin since 2003 when it was plus-6. Senior quarterback Eli Manning threw 10 interceptions – which he off-set with 29 touchdowns – but the Ole Miss secondary gained 15 interceptions.
Most of the time problem has been interceptions, which is why Nutt stressed in the off-season that he wanted a quarterback who could avoid “disasters.”
Going back to 2003, the Rebels have gained more fumbles than they've lost each season except 2008.
However, in turnover margin since Eli, the best the Rebels have been was minus-2 in 2008.
Here are the numbers:
Yesterday Brandon Bolden told me of a greater emphasis on ball-protection than he's ever seen at Ole Miss, describing team-wide drills, not just position drills, aimed avoiding turnovers.
Defensive back Charles Sawyer talked about a heightened awareness in the secondary of taking away the ball. Ole Miss had just six interceptions last year.
Nutt says he's seen good things from his quarterbacks with ball-protection and has extreme confidence in David Lee to have them prepared.
“They have been really good. I don't think there is anybody that coaches the way David Lee does. He can get it done. He will do the best job and have them ready. He can take quarterbacks that have not played on this level in college and make sure they are ready. He can show them how to take care of the ball and stay away from disaster. I feel so much better this week than I did last week and the week previous to that. They just keep getting better. Now they have to play.”