No stat is more important to coaches than turnover margin. To win at a high level, you better be able to take care of the football on offense and take it away on defense.
That's why Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze right now isn't thrilled with some of junior quarterback Bo Wallace's decision-making. Wallace might have finished fifth in the SEC last season in total offense with 3,384 yards, but there's another number that Freeze can't get out of his head: 21.
Wallace threw a league-high 17 interceptions last season and also lost four fumbles, giving him 21 turnovers. That's more than eight SEC teams had a year ago. In fairness, Wallace made more than his share of plays, too, and was at his best down the stretch when Ole Miss played its way into a bowl game. But coaches are prone to remember the bad plays, and Freeze saw a few interceptions last week from Wallace in practice that looked eerily similar to some of the ones he tossed a year ago in games. Freeze notes that interceptions are usually a combination of several things, including poor protection, a route being a little off or maybe the timing being off. But Freeze said about half of Wallace's interceptions last season came as a result of his "trying to make a phenomenal play instead of understanding that it was time to punt or play another down. That was kind of his mentality coming out of the system he played in in junior college." Freeze is leaning hard on Wallace to get out of that mentality -- and with good reason. If the Rebels are going to make a move this season in the West, they can't afford to turn it over 29 times again. Only Arkansas (31 turnovers) turned it over more last season in the SEC. What's more, go back and look at the last six SEC champions and what they did in the turnover department. None of the six had more than 17 turnovers, and five of the six were plus-14 or better in turnover margin.