On the first day of South Carolina’s spring practices, Gamecocks defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson showed his players a film. It wasn’t a highlight video.
Instead, it was a collection of all the times South Carolina tipped a pass but failed to turn it into an interception, forced a fumble and then didn’t recover it or let an opponent hold the football in a precarious position without forcing it loose.
“I said, ‘These are the opportunities we missed, and this can’t happen,’ ” Robinson said. “For us to be the football team that we want to be and that we are capable of being, we have to make those plays. We have to get the tips and overthrows. When the ball is on the ground, we have to come up with the football. We had our opportunities, and we didn’t cash in on them.”
That, as much as anything, is the reason the Gamecocks slipped from 9-4 in 2017 to 7-6 in 2018, the coaches believe, and that will be the No. 1 emphasis in South Carolina’s 15 practices culminating in the April 6 spring game.
“In our points of emphasis for improving from last year, the No. 1 thing that jumps out at you is turnover margin,” head coach Will Muschamp said.
South Carolina finished 101st in the country last year in turnover margin at minus-5. That’s after finishing in the top 25 in the country in Muschamp’s first two seasons — 13th in 2017 at plus-11 and 24th in 2016 at plus-7.
“In six games of the seven we won, we won the turnover margin,” Muschamp said. “The Akron game was the only one where we were on the flip side of that, and we were a better team than they were so we were able to overcome it.”
The problem does not rest entirely with the South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks offense turned the ball over 21 times, which ranked 87th in the country. Fourteen of those giveaways were interceptions thrown by starting quarterback Jake Bentley.
“The bottom line is, we need to take care of the ball,” Muschamp said. “We had 14 interceptions. They are not all on Jake, but that is far too many turnovers from that position and he understands that. That’s the No. 1 area where we’ve got to make improvement as a football team.”
The first day of spring practice, Wednesday, didn’t start off a lot better for the offense, from Robinson’s perspective.
“I thought the ball was on the ground a lot today,” Robinson said. “From a mindset standpoint, our mind is in the right place. I truly believe that. Coach Muschamp made an emphasis in front of the team today about how we are going to get the football and how it directly affects winning and losing.”
Last season, South Carolina’s young defenders often struggled with knowing when the secure a tackle and when to try to force a turnover, which led to letdowns on both fronts, Robinson said, and that will be a point of emphasis this spring with a more veteran unit.
“There are a lot of teachable moments as far as that is concerned as far as when we want to take a shot at the ball and when we want to secure the tackle and get the guy on the ground and making good decisions,” Robinson said.