With all the big offensive numbers that the Southern Miss football team has put up this season, there is one statistic that stands out most when browsing through the NCAA database and the offense and defense can both take credit for it.
The Golden Eagles are tied for 11th in the nation when it comes to turnover margin, causing 1.10 more turnovers than their opponents per game this season. USM (4-6, 2-4 in Conference USA) is the highest-rated team in that statistical category with a losing record. Southern Miss has turned the ball over 13 times this season while creating 24 turnovers on defense.
A big reason for the Eagles' recent two-game winning streak is the fact that they've gathered six interceptions compared to no turnovers given up in the last two contests.
"The defense is creating turnovers and the offense is holding onto the ball," USM coach Larry Fedora said. "That's the No. 1 thing we stress is creating turnovers and taking care of the ball, not only on offense and defense, but also on special teams."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Davis has shown a decision-making ability that is hard to find in a young quarterback as he's given up just seven interceptions compared to 17 passing touchdowns in his 10 starts this season.
His quick mind earned him the job in the spring and there have been few instances of him making big mental errors throughout the season.
Fedora realizes the ability to avoid mistakes that Davis has shown is rare for a first-year quarterback.
"I personally haven't had one (like Davis)," Fedora said. "He's doing a good job of taking care of the football. It's like I told him today, it doesn't matter what you did two weeks ago or last week. Every day is a new day so you have to continue to focus on taking care of the football and the defense has to continue creating turnovers."
Davis' cautiousness hasn't hindered his productivity on the field as he set the Southern Miss record against UCF for total offensive yardage in a season with 2,816. The previous record-holder was Dustin Almond in 2005 with 2,763 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Todd Bradford's bunch has been a ball-hawking group recently and he believes that there could have easily been more turnovers along the way.
"We have gotten a little more pass rush and I think that's been part of it," Bradford said. "As I look back, we dropped three interceptions in the Rice game and two in the UTEP game. We're holding onto the ball a little better. We're a little confident with the ball in the air. I would say the biggest factor is that the guys are a lot more confident when the ball is in the quarterback's hands.
"We probably had an opportunity at two more on Saturday (against UCF). I think we're just becoming more confident. Our D-line is causing the ball to be more elevated and giving our guys a chance to go after the ball."
Turnovers may become more difficult to come by at 2 p.m. on Saturday against East Carolina at Roberts Stadium. The Pirates have turned the ball over just twice in the last three contests.
"Just from listening to (ECU coach Skip) Holtz, they've been more conservative on offense," Fedora said. "They've been playing the field position game. They're punting the ball and letting the defense win games that way.
"They've been successful so I'm guessing that won't change."