College Sports

Why are footballs bolted into the walls at South Carolina’s operations building?

It’s there for everyone to take a whack as they enter the room. You can punch it, slap it, grab it, whatever.

Outside the defensive meeting room in South Carolina’s new football operations building, a football mounted on a spring was recently installed midway through training camp. Hit it, and it gives off a loud, satisfying thunk.

So what is it, and others like it, doing scattered outside of various rooms in the building?

“Turnovers. Every time you go by, and you snatch that ball out,” Gamecocks defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “We want our guys constantly thinking about the football. That’s what we hang our hat on. We look at our plan to win — the ball is the most important thing in this building. And coach (Will Muschamp) mentions it every single day, everyone in every meeting mentions it every single day. It’s about the ball. It’s protecting it on offense, it’s going to get it on defense.”

The topic of turnovers has been a frequent one at USC throughout the summer and into training camp — senior quarterback Jake Bentley led the SEC in interceptions last season and the Gamecocks finished 2018 ranked 87th nationally in turnovers lost.

But taking the ball away from opponents was just as much of a struggle — Carolina finished the year tied for 93rd in turnovers gained, with just six interceptions, tied for the fewest in program history over the past decade.

And thus far through camp, both Robinson and Muschamp have said they’d like to see the defense come up with a few more takeaways.

“Probably not as pleased as we want to be,” Robinson said of his mood on the number of turnovers. “You know, you look at the scrimmages. I think in the two big scrimmages we had, I think we only had one or two turnovers. So that’s not what we want. Really good on the offensive part, you know, because that’s one of the things that we talked about, is the ball. So Jake’s been doing a good job protecting that, you know, but we got to do a better job of causing and forcing some turnovers to do what we need to do.”

Because of the nature of camp, that lack of turnovers has been good news from an offensive perspective. But the imbalance isn’t to Robinson’s liking — he said the defense aims for three turnovers per practice in full 11-on-11 drills.

Spring-loaded footballs on walls aren’t the only way South Carolina’s coaching staff has tried to emphasize and incentivize going after the ball. While Miami’s “turnover chain” has spawned plenty of imitators, the Gamecocks have started a new tradition after taking the ball away in practice, according to sophomore cornerback Israel Mukuamu.

“So when you get a turnover, we all run to the sideline, we all get a team picture. We got a lot of pictures,” Mukuamu said.

When asked if that custom will make its way onto game days, Mukuamu teased an answer: “Yes sir. We got something coming.”

Until then, players will have to settle for taking a shot at the footballs mounted inside. Nobody has ripped one off the wall yet, Mukuamu said.

“I like them. It just reminds us that we need to get the ball. that’s what we emphasize here, getting turnovers, getting the ball and getting the ball off people,” Mukuamu said. “Punch them, grab them, do whatever.”

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.