It's About Time for a Turnover

USC's defense has made minimal impact on an opposing offense in terms of turnovers, despite it being a focus all off season and fall camp.

Turnovers killed us, said the Trojans starting left tackle.

It was all about turnovers, that's the story of the game, USC's center agreed.

A couple balls didn't go our way, a fumble, interceptions, that turned the game around, the true freshman tailback said.

While it was just one game, key turnovers handed the Trojans' their only loss of the season, in a 43-22 upset by the Arizona State Sun Devils.

But giving up the ball isn't the Trojans' only deficiency. Their inability to force takeaways is another.

Through four games, USC's defense has picked an opposing quarterback off just once (Minnesota).

Through four games, USC's defense has forced just three fumbles, and recovered just one of the three (Syracuse).

Cornerback Nickell Robey thinks the road test diverted the Trojans' focus onto their opponent when all season long they locked in on themselves.

"It's not really about them, it's about us, doing what we have to do. And that's what we're focusing on right now because last week we lost part of that," he said. "I think just going on the road took a lot away from us and it was like a different switch."

Safety T.J. McDonald said the defense's ability to create turnover opportunities will come.

"Sometimes [turnovers] come in bunches. They might not be coming right now but they come in bunches so when they do come, that ball is going to start coming out," McDonald said. "We've been getting some balls out they just haven't been falling in our direction."

McDonald, Robey and Bailey all agree that to force more turnovers, the entire defense has to be on the same page, possessing one like mind.

"Basically we've got to scheme up the quarterback, force interceptions and really get to the ball and strip the ball out of the running back's hands whenever he's running the ball," Robey said. "That's going to be the most important part."

"We just got to have the attitude that that's our ball on the field," McDonald said. "That's our ball, we got to take it back."

"We just have to have the ‘want to.' A lot of teams they're not really putting the ball in the air deep against us, a lot of teams are dinking and dunking," Bailey said. "So when they catch a little pass like that we have to be aggressive on the tackle, strip the ball out, punch it out, and when we do get the ball out we definitely have to jump on it."

At this point in the season, USC head coach Lane Kiffin said he's surprised his team ranks last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin (-1.5 per game) and turnovers lost (-9 with six lost fumbles and three interceptions).

"Yeah I really am. Probably, I said after the game, the most surprising of anything that's happened over our time here, this time around, is the lack of turnovers that we've gotten," Kiffin said.

Between daily interception drills with the secondary and passing drills to prepare Barkley to check the ball down under pressure, this team seems like one that wouldn't be plagued by an abundance of turnovers or a lack of forcing them.

To ensure this takeaway illness doesn't spread to both sides of the ball in the future, Kiffin and his staff have employed incentives.

"We even gave [the defense] ice cream if they got turnovers. That didn't work," he said. "We thought that would work with the linemen. You'd be surprised."

When asked if Kiffin considered a popsicle or some kind of low-calorie dessert as a motivator, he elaborated.

"We [typically] only give them sugar-free yogurt and they don't like that," he said. "We said they could have real ice cream. That still didn't work. We're trying everything. Hopefully it will turn around this week."


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