Josh Kendall

‘Punch!’ and ‘chop!’ and the Gamecocks’ language of turnovers

If there is a central theme that runs through South Carolina’s entire defensive philosophy, a tenet that rises above all others in emphasis and importance, it is the creation of turnovers.

Why is it then that you’ll rarely hear a Gamecocks coach tell a player, “You missed a turnover opportunity there”? Because that’s way too generic.

“We don’t just say, ‘Hey man, let’s get a turnover,’ ” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “That’s not how we speak around here. We name them. Whether it’s a tomahawk. Whether it’s a chop. Whether it’s an uppercut. Whether it’s a punch.”

Each of those is a technique used to get the ball away from offensive players the Gamecocks refer to as “violators.”

“That’s one of the big things,” junior defensive end D.J. Wonnum said.

South Carolina finished second in the SEC, and 13th in the nation, last year in turnover margin at plus-.85 per game, gaining 28 and giving up 17. The defense’s 28 takeaways led the SEC and ranked ninth in the nation.

“That’s part of the culture of our program,” Robinson said. “Our No. 1 goal around here is the ball.”

South Carolina’s defensive meeting rooms feature footballs on sticks outside the rooms that players use to practice all their various forms of thievery. Robinson knows his players are grasping the importance of the concept when they start speaking the right language.

“When we are watching tape, you will see a guy say, ‘We missed a punch opportunity right there, coach,’ ” Robinson said. “We don’t say, ‘We missed a turnover opportunity.’ They say, ‘We missed a punch,’ so I know he’s thinking what we’re thinking. We always talk about it, everything we do.”

The Gamecocks start all their defensive meetings by saying “ball out” in unison, said cornerback Nick Harvey, a transfer from Texas A&M who said it was evident from his first meeting with the team that turnovers were the No. 1 point of emphasis.

“Do you read the Bible every day? Our Bible in football is turnovers, and we read it every day,” South Carolina defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. “This is my 31st year of coaching, and without a doubt, we coach as a staff turnovers and takeaways better than any place I have been. And I have been on some (darn) good staffs. T-Rob does a phenomenal job. The whole staff does. We drill it with them, and it shows up in practice and it shows up in games.”

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