South Carolina’s players believe that no defense in the country is better at creating turnovers than theirs.
They’re not correct, but the Gamecocks are close enough to the top of the rankings that the power of positive thinking – and a few more games like Saturday’s against Arkansas – could get them there.
South Carolina (4-2 overall, 2-2 SEC) is 11tt in the nation in turnovers caused with 13, four behind national leader Penn State. The Gamecocks, who play Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., are tied for the first in the category in the SEC.
“We just love the ball,” defensive end Dante Sawyer said. “We love going after the ball. Our top priority is to get the ball. We get the ball better than anybody in the country. It just builds up confidence, and we’re going to keep it rolling.”
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The Gamecocks forced four turnovers in a 48-22 win over the Razorbacks last week and turned three of them directly into defensive touchdowns, the first time a South Carolina team ever has scored three such touchdowns in a game.
“We kind of went in a slump on turnovers, but this game we brought it back up,” safety Steven Montac said. “We’re the best team in the country at getting turnovers. We have to keep playing like that.”
Muschamp has preached the importance of turnovers since he began coaching defense. The 2009 Texas defense he coordinated led the nation in takeaways with 37 that season, and last year the Gamecocks finished 10th in the country with 27 takeaways.
“You can’t put a scale on the amount of momentum it creates for your football team, the frustration it creates for your opponent,” he said. “To have a turnover and a score off a turnover, it’s just so uplifting in confidence, belief, so many things, emotion. I think it gives a charge to your football team, but it also deflates the opponent. That’s the No. 1 goal of our football team, as far as winning the game, is the ball. That’s the No. 1 determining factor in winning and losing football games.”
The Gamecocks talk turnovers every day but specifically focus on them on Tuesdays, Muschamp said. On those days, the defensive coaching staff shows game tape of players on the opposing team the Gamecocks call “violators,” meaning they don’t carry the ball securely.
“They do everything to emphasize that part of the game,” Muschamp said. “It’s so important to be a ball hawk, defensively. Our defensive staff does a fantastic job of that.”
Of course, every team in the country talks a good game on turnovers. The Volunteers became infamous earlier this season for their HTB (Hunt The Ball) trash can on the sideline, the idea being that players who caused a turnover could dunk the ball into the trash can. While Tennessee was lampooned for the idea, South Carolina did something very similar in practices throughout the preseason, allowing their players to slam dunk turnovers into a bucket.
The difference is that South Carolina didn’t bring their prop to the sideline on game day, and that the Volunteers haven’t been very successful in their attempt to take the ball away from opponents. Tennessee is 91th in the country with six takeaways.
“Yeah, we kind of did that too so it wasn’t nothing new to us,” Sawyer said, “but if they don’t get the ball, what’s the point of it.”