Indians hope to 'turnover' a new leaf

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Other than the fact it doesn't have a winning record, Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings acknowledges there is plenty to be pleased about regarding the performance of his young squad so far this season.

But one area that distresses Billings to no end is turnover margin. Southeast -- particularly over the last three games -- has been abysmal in that department.

And, according to Billings, that might be the main reason why the Indians are currently 2-3 instead of 4-1 or even 5-0, as they very easily could be.

Speaking at his weekly media conference Monday morning, Billings said the Indians' turnover margin over the past three games -- Southeast has created one turnover while giving up 11 turnovers -- simply won't get the job done.

"That's been the most disappointing thing so far. We have to improve in that area for us to be successful," he said. "You play a good football team, you don't create turnovers and you give some up, your chances of winning are slim.

"We've gone three games in a row without creating a turnover (the Indians have actually created one). We won one of those and had a chance to win the other two. That's the biggest key right now, turnover margin."

The Indians actually were on the positive side of the turnover department during their season-opening 16-12 loss at Division I-A Eastern Michigan. Southeast had one turnover in that game while the Eagles had two. Eastern Michigan wound up scoring a late touchdown -- and converting a fourth-and-10 play along the way -- to rally for the victory.

But in their other two defeats, the Indians were well on the short end of the turnover margin yet somehow were very nearly able to win both. In a 31-28 home loss to Southwest Missouri three weeks ago, Southeast had five turnovers to one for the Bears, yet SMS had to also score a late touchdown to rally from behind.

Saturday at Tennessee State, the Indians turned the ball over four times while the Tigers did not have a miscue. But the Tigers had to hold on for a 20-14 triumph in the Ohio Valley Conference opener as Southeast failed three times from the 1-yard line in the closing seconds.

The one victory the Indians did manage to secure in the past three weeks was their 38-33 comeback triumph at Illinois State two Saturdays ago. In that contest, Southeast had two turnovers to none for the Redbirds.

"If we improve in that area, we have a chance to be a great football team," Billings said. "If we can just even the turnovers out, we can play with any team in the conference."

Billings said the Indians, like virtually every team, have drills in practice to work on creating turnovers.

"We have drills on stripping the ball and we feel like we have a good secondary to intercept passes," he said. "We've talked about it so much, we're not going to talk about it this week."

For the season, the Indians have 15 turnovers -- nine interceptions and six lost fumbles -- while their opponents have seven turnovers on four interceptions and three lost fumbles.

All those turnovers have helped create something of a statistical oddity for Southeast. Although the Indians lead the OVC in total offense with 422 yards per game, they are last in scoring offense at 23 points a contest.

"We're moving the ball but we're not scoring enough," said Billings.

Final plays fail

Billings said he has had plenty of time to ponder those final seconds of Saturday's gut-wrenching loss to undefeated Tennessee State.

On first down from the one, quarterback Jeromy McDowell was stopped for no gain on a sneak. Southeast then had to use its final timeout. On second down, a McDowell pass in the end zone went off Willie Ponder's hands. Then, on third down with three seconds left, Curtis Cooper slipped after taking a handoff and went down short of the goal line as the game ended.

"We had three shots at it and all three didn't work," Billings said. "I second-guessed myself all weekend. Someone asked me if I would have run the same plays. The answer is no, because they didn't work."

Added Billings, "People say you could be 5-0. We could be, but we're not. We feel like we've made a great leap from last year, but at some point, we have to start making some of those plays."McDowell could start

Billings said that McDowell, who suffered a sprained left knee at Illinois State and came on in the third quarter at Tennessee State after not starting, continues to make progress with the knee and could very well start this Saturday when the Indians face Tennessee-Martin (1-3, 0-1 OVC) in a 6 p.m. Family Weekend contest at Houck Stadium.

"If he keeps improving like he has, there's a good chance he'll start," said Billings.

Defensive tackle James Jennette, who injured an ankle late against Tennessee State, is probable for this Saturday.

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