USC Gamecocks Football

One factor helped power Muschamp’s first USC defenses. Suddenly it’s lacking

Coach Muschamp previews challenges of facing Missouri

USC coach Muschamp previews challenges the Gamecock football team faces against Missouri Saturday.
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USC coach Muschamp previews challenges the Gamecock football team faces against Missouri Saturday.

Two seasons ago, the number sat at 14th in the country. Last year, sixth in a crucial defensive category for the South Carolina football team.

Right now, the Gamecocks sit at 88th nationally in turnovers forced per game.

In four games, their defense has five turnovers total, three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. Last year, eight games featured two turnovers from the opposition. This year, there’s only been one such contest.

“It’s extremely frustrating when you look at the first four games,” coach Will Muschamp said. “As much as we emphasize it and go through it, that has been an extremely disappointing part of not creating momentum for our team, creating field position for our team in those situations.”

The benefits of turnovers are multifaceted. On a defense’s own side of the field, it takes away a scoring opportunity. Even outside a defense’s own 35, they set the offense up in good, oftentimes very good, position to start a drive. If there’s a return in the mix, it often provides both.

Rashad Fenton currently has all three of USC’s interceptions. Javon Kinlaw has forced a pair of fumbles.

One issue is, turnovers can be finicky things. There’s a little randomness to them, meaning teams sometimes see wild swings on that front. The Gamecocks recovered 63 percent of opponents’ fumbles last season; that’s down to 40 (the average is around 50). They’re getting hands on fewer passes (four per game, down from 5.3 last year), which tends to lead to fewer interceptions.

Turnovers were part of the reason the Gamecocks had been able to stay closer in some games last season, or turn tight contests in their favor.

All of that has meant USC’s bend-don’t-break defense has less margin for error and that an important bedrock of what Muschamp wants to see from his defense is sorely lacking.

“It has been something we are continuing to address and we have to find ways to get the ball off of people,” Muschamp said.

USC coach Will Muschamp's response when questioned about his 'spirited' players.