Earl Thomas played high school and college football in Texas. He’s currently playing professional football in Seattle, and still Thomas has a huge impact on every South Carolina football game and practice.
“He was around the ball every snap. He was a ball hawk,” said Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp, who was Texas’ defensive coordinator when Thomas played for the Longhorns. “That’s where we came up with the term ball hawkin’.”
It’s a mentality that Muschamp has preached to his defensive players since he has been coaching, but Thomas’ instincts crystallized his favorite term for it.
“There is some coaching to it, I can tell you that, but that being said, there are certain guys that have a knack for getting the ball off people, have a knack for stripping, have a knack of when it’s a good time to tackle someone and when it’s a good time to make a strip and that’s a judgment,” Muschamp said. “It goes back into making good choices and decisions on the field.”
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The Gamecocks reward their defensive players who cause a turnover – make an interception or force or recover a fumble – with “Ball Hawk” T-shirts. Cornerback Chris Lammons, with three interceptions, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble, leads the team with five shirts.
“Good-looking shirts,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got a black one, we’ve got a garnet one, and we’ve got a white one.”
South Carolina’s emphasis on turnovers is paying dividends in Muschamp’s first year. The Gamecocks are tied for first in the SEC, and 20th in the nation, in turnover margin at plus-6.
South Carolina has forced seven fumbles and 10 interceptions this season and is on pace to force its highest number (26 at the current pace) of turnovers since the 2013 season. The Gamecocks’ 17 forced turnovers are second only to Texas A&M’s 19 in the SEC.
“I think our defensive staff and (defensive coordinator) Travaris Robinson do a fantastic job of coaching awareness of the ball and when the ball is in jeopardy let’s get the ball off of people,” Muschamp said.
Cornerback Jamarcus King has three interceptions and a forced fumble, and linebacker T.J. Holloman has two interceptions and a forced fumble.
“Some guys have a knack for it,” Muschamp said. “T.J. Holloman is a guy that jumps out. He’s got a knack for it.”
South Carolina is second in the SEC in interceptions with 10. Only this week’s opponent Missouri has more, with 11.
The Gamecocks practices become a sort of battle of wills, tight end Hayden Hurst said, with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper urging his players to keep the ball “high and tight” and Muschamp and Robinson screaming for their players to “get the ball out, get the ball out.”
“It’s definitely a focal point,” Hurst said.
Who: USC (4-4, 2-4 SEC) vs. Missouri (2-6, 0-4)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Line: USC by 7