For ages, “three-and-out” has been the standard for defensive football, the goal being to force opposing offenses to punt after three unsuccessful plays at the beginning of each drive. South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson wants to raise the bar this year.
“We don’t really like three-and-outs around here. We like one-and-outs,” Robinson said. “We like to get the ball back. That’s what we talk about every single day, getting the rock.”
He’s referring to turnovers, fumbles and interceptions that create instant momentum for the team doing the taking away. Last year, the Gamecocks were third in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-seven) on the way to a 6-7 record. Head coach Will Muschamp pointed out that his team was 4-0 when it hit its internal milestones for turnover margin and explosive plays made and allowed.
For turnovers, the Gamecocks goals each week are to commit none on offense and create three on defense. Muschamp has come to know the importance of turnover margin through experience. His most successful team – the 2012 Florida team that finished 11-2 – was plus-15 for the season in turnover margin. His worst team – the 2013 Florida team that finished 4-8 – was minus-two in the same category.
“Muschamp and TRob they preach it every day, the battle of turnovers can win games,” cornerback Rashad Fenton said. “That’s definitely one of the main things we work on.”
Following the Gamecocks first scrimmage of the fall, Muschamp praised his defense for creating turnovers and chided his offense for surrendering them. Last season, it was the defense that was mostly responsible for the lofty turnover margin ranking. South Carolina took the ball away from its opponents 27 times. Only Alabama (29) did it more. Meanwhile, the offense gave the ball away 20 times, which ranked eighth in the SEC.
The defense has an even higher goal this year.
“We are getting the ball out every day. That’s our biggest motto,” senior defensive end Dante Sawyer said. “We need the ball. We are trying to be No. 1in the country. We are going to be No. 1 in the country at getting the ball out.”
Robinson has put a bucket on the practice field this year and defensive players who get an interception or recover a fumble during a drill (as long as it’s not a one-minute or hurry-up situation) can dunk the ball into the bucket while a teammate holds it aloft. Freshman linebacker Sherrod Greene energized his teammates with a 360 dunk into the bucket during Thursday morning’s practice, linebacker Skai Moore said.
“The kids are loving it,” outside linebackers and bucks coach Mike Peterson said. “It’s just another little token out there for them when they get the turnovers. They can alley-oop it, dunk it, whatever they want to do. Me personally, I like to bowl so I’d probably bowl it in there.”
The Gamecocks also hand out Ball Hawk T-shirts for players who get turnovers in practice.
“We have been getting the ball off the offense a lot so there are a lot of shirts out,” Moore said.
Moore has forced a few practice fumbles but hasn’t gotten a chance to use the bucket yet, he said. He’s already got a plan for when he does, though.
“Probably under the legs,” he said. “Twice.”