At plus-seven in turnover margin in 2014, the Mercer Bears were pretty good at protecting the football on offense and going after it on defense.
In fact, they led the Southern Conference in that important statistical category.
But the Bears want to get better ... on both sides of the ball.
“Turnover ratio is one of the biggest stats in the game,” junior linebacker Tyler Ward said. “(Defensive coordinator Mike Kolakowski) preaches turnovers, and that’s what he is about. And he ought to be, because that’s the main thing is the ball. We focused in camp on getting the ball out, the second guy to the ball, stripping, with the first guy obviously making the tackle, and getting interceptions.
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“That will keep us in the game this year, and we’re really trying to tighten down on getting the ball out.”
The Mercer defense forced 11 fumbles last season while picking off 13 passes with its strong focus on forcing turnovers paying off. But the offense wasn’t as careful with the ball as it wants to be, and junior quarterback John Russ puts a lot of that on his own shoulders.
Russ threw 10 interceptions and lost four of the team’s seven fumbles.
For me, I have to stop throwing interceptions,” Russ said. “I threw 10 last year, and that’s not good enough.”
Head coach Bobby Lamb quickly responded, “Good answer.”
Russ continued his answer by saying, “I can turn down the interceptions by four or five easily and help the turnover margin. I think I had four or five fumbles, and that’s unacceptable, as well, so me personally, I can cut the turnovers by 10.”
If he is able to do that and the defense continues to ball hawk like it did last year, the Southern Conference-leading margin from last year would only increase.
“What the defense is doing at practice, even after the whistle is going, they’re still pulling at it,” sophomore running back Alex Lakes said. “As an offensive player, it makes you mad, but when it comes to games, it can make you better. With my position coach, we’re always doing ball security drills every day, and it’s become second nature now.”