For all the good things T.J. Brunson saw from South Carolina’s defense during spring practice, there was one thing that really bothered him.
“We just need to keep working on getting the ball out,” the Gamecocks junior middle linebacker said. “The offense is doing a great job of holding onto the ball but defensively we still need to get the ball out. We definitely need more. It’s coming out but not enough.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is glad Brunson noticed.
“It’s something we chart every day,” Muschamp said. “(Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson) and our defensive staff do a fantastic job of coaching turnovers and emphasizing turnovers, we have not gotten the ball out well this spring at all.”
The Gamecocks led the SEC and were tied for ninth in the nation last year with 28 takeaways (14 interceptions, 14 fumbles). Their plus-11 turnover margin was second in the SEC and tied for 13th in the nation.
While Muschamp emphasized some of the lack of turnovers in spring practice should be credited to an offense which is doing a better job of protecting the ball, he pointed out some important things that the defense is missing this year. Those things are Skai Moore, Dante Sawyer, Chris Lammons and Jamarcus King. Those four players, who all exhausted their eligibility last year, combined for five interceptions, 24 pass breakups, six forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Sawyer was tied for the national lead in five forced fumbles last year.
“You take away a guy like Skai Moore and Dante Sawyer. Dante Sawyer led all defensive linemen in the SEC with havoc on the ball, getting the ball off people,” Muschamp said. “Those two guys were the two guys that jump out. Chris Lammons got his hands on a lot of balls. Jamarcus King got his hand on a lot of balls. Those four guys, we’re missing them.”
So far, safety Steven Montac is the only player Muschamp has seen on the 2018 squad who has proven a similar ability to force turnovers.
“Steven Montac has done a really good job this spring of getting the ball off people. He’s always had a knack,” the coach said. “A little bit of it is a knack a little bit of it is from an experience standpoint of being confident to be in position to make a play and when to take a shot at the ball. Sometimes with younger players if it’s not natural for them, you have to continue to rep it and talk about it.”
Montac had three interceptions, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery last season.
“We led the SEC in turnovers last year, but we haven’t been on that same pace,” safety Javon Charleston acknowledged during spring practice. “Right now, we’ve been trying to up the turnovers.”