The close to the 2008 season left Gamecocks fans yearning for a team that could produce a respectable turnover margin. The two-headed Chris Smelley / Stephen Garcia monster combined for an astounding 10 INTs over the final three games, and that's not even counting the turnovers owing to lost fumbles, which included this brilliant play:
To our relief, these kinds of problems were largely rectified last year. The 2009 Gamecocks improved vastly in terms of turnovers given up. With a QB and RB crew with another year's experience under their belts, one can reasonably assume that we may see even more improvement in that department this year.
While our offense coughed up the ball less often last year, though, our defense, despite having a generally successful year, failed to hold up its end of the bargain and force turnovers. This led to a rather average TO margin. The particular problem was forcing INTs. Even though we fielded a generally highly regarded secondary that ranked eighth in the country in passing defense, we only managed to pick off six passes on the year. Three of those, moreover, was picked off by LBs. I'm not privy to the national numbers on this, but I'm going to make an educated guess and say that only having picked off three passes all year makes our secondary one of the nation's worst in that category.
Improving in this area is extremely important for the Gamecocks because, despite fielding what will likely be one of our most talented teams ever this year, we're still a step behind Florida and Alabama in terms of talent. Talent isn't everything, though; as many coaches note, turnovers are a great equalizer. If we want to beat teams like the Tide and Gators, one way to do it, then, will be to even the playing field by forcing more turnovers.
Our coaches, fortunately, are working on the situation. The coaching staff has emphasized drills to improve our defensive backs' pass-catching abilities, in hopes that that will help us avoid the dropped INTs that plagued us last year. It shouldn't take long for us to learn if it's worked. Southern Miss. will likely air it out a little bit. Their QB protected the ball well last year. Will we be able to figure out a way to cause him more frustration?