One of the biggest struggles for the Rebels this season has been in the turnover battle. Ole Miss forced zero turnovers in the opener against Florida State but gave the ball away four times, and against Alabama they were able to recover one fumble but fumbled twice on offense. The Rebels narrowly won the turnover battle in their blowout victory against Georgia 2-1, but it wasn’t until the following week against Memphis that they really clicked on both sides of the ball, forcing four turnovers and only giving the ball up once.
Defensive tackle D.J. Jones said it felt good to finally to finally force a high number of turnovers.
“Not only is that on us, but that’s on our coaching staff,” Jones said of the lack of turnovers earlier in the season. “Just something we have to work on better, and something we did work on better, that’s why we came out with four turnovers.”
Jones played a big part in that improvement, as the senior recovered a fumble and made a diving interception off Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson in the fourth quarter.
“They just kept running screens, and I knew that particular play was to the back, so I followed him, read my keys and he tried to throw it away and I just got under it,” Jones said.
“Coach (Hugh) Freeze and Coach (Dave) Wommack, they challenged the defensive backs and the defense all week on hyping on getting the ball. We need more turnovers, and we set a goal for six and we came out with four,” sophomore safety Zedrick Woods said. “It just feels good to know that we’re back on track with turnovers.”
Woods forced the other two turnovers on the day, intercepting Ferguson twice, one of which he took all the way back for a touchdown.
“Marquis (Haynes) got pressure on the quarterback and he threw it straight to me,” Woods said. “I expected to make a break, but it just came straight to me so I took that as a blessing.”
Equally as important as the defense forcing turnovers was the offense cutting down their mistakes and not giving the ball back to Memphis, aside from a single interception from quarterback Chad Kelly.
“I was proud of our guys,” Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner said. “It seemed like we moved the ball effectively without turning the ball over until, obviously, right at the end. Chad made good decisions, for the most part.”
“We protected the football well until right at the end, and I think we got a little greedy, but if we protect the ball and keep hitting big plays like we’re going to, we’re going to be tough to stop,” Werner continued.
Kelly said he was pleased with the Rebel defense’s takeaways and liked the overall performance from the offense but still wanted to get his own turnovers down.
“Still have to take care of the ball. That one turnover, that gave them seven points, gave them momentum, so have to correct that, but overall I thought we did really well,” Kelly said.