Stats-based preview for USC-Vanderbilt

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Hi all, I plan on doing statistics based previews for the South Carolina games this year. Since there are no statistics yet for 2012, I will use a mix of 2011 and 2012 projections for the first few games.

The statistics I will be using are a mix of S&P+, which Bill Connelly's CFB ratings, and my own homegrown ratings for 2011 and 2012 projections (coming soon!), for which I'll provide more information on as the season progresses. (I've been too lazy to write up the details.) Note: both South Carolina and Vanderbilt profile closely to their 2011 numbers (14 and 16 returning starters respectively) so I'll just use the 2011 numbers while I finalize the 2012 projections.

Vanderbilt offense (Overall: 102.3 S&P+ (59th), 24.03 Adjusted Points (37th) Rushing: 125.8 S&P+ (10th), 0.026 PPP (34th) Passing: 92.3 S&P+ (80th), .037 PPP (42nd)) vs. South Carolina defense (Overall: 123.7 S&P+ (14th), 18.83 Adjusted Points (21st) Rushing: 104.6 S&P+ (49th), -0.008 PPP ( 54th) Passing: 146.4 S&P+ (4th) -0.122 PPP (4th))

The first thing you should notice is that South Carolina's passing defense was as good as advertised last year. Only Alabama, LSU, and Penn State were better. However, the rushing defense was much more average, mainly due to subpar outings the first half of the year, especially during the Navy game.

This could be a problem against Vanderbilt's rushing offense if Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy can continue their magic from their run to end last season. Stacy averaged 5.9 YPC (compared to 5.0 for Lattimore) and Jordan Rodgers averaged 4.8 YPC, which I believe included sacks. The run game is potent and the USC front seven will need to bring their A game to stop Vanderbilt. Remember, Larry Smith, not Rodgers, started for Vanderbilt last year against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina's passing defense needs to be just good, not great like last year to contain Vanderbilt, who had a below average passing game last year. I think this matchup remains in South Carolina's favor because of Clowney and Taylor.

South Carolina offense (Overall: 110.4 (32nd), 24.06 Adjusted Points (35th) Rushing: 115.4 S&P+ (29th), 0.018 PPP (41st) Passing: 106.4 S&P+ (51st) , 0.051 PPP (35th)) vs. Vanderbilt defense (Overall: 113.8 S&P+ (27th), 20.67 Adjusted Points (38th) Rushing: 108.2 (45th), -0.038 (51st) PPP Passing 116.3 (24th), -0.019 PPP (42nd))

Here you have a balanced offense against a balanced defense. However, remember that just as Vanderbilt benefitted from a quarterback change, so did South Carolina. Connor Shaw was incredible the last four games to end the year on a per play basis. Fun fact: South Carolina had a better overall offense and passing game on a per play basis than Clemson did last year, even when accounting for Garcia's poor play to start the year. I think Vanderbilt will struggle to contain Connor Shaw on the zone read play. Shaw averaged an incredible 6.0 YPC despite being sacked 23 times.

I'm also excited to see how Shaw does throwing the ball. I'd like to see him make his reads and find the open man, like he did to hit Bruce Ellington for a gorgeous touchdown against Clemson last year. Also, I'm hoping he learns how to throw the ball away. His sack rate of 10.9% was quite detrimental on offense last year and must improve. I remember constant yells of "Throw it away!" only to see Shaw get sacked. For comparison, Garcia was sacked on 5.9% of passes (and that's nothing special).

Adjusted Points prediction: Vanderbilt 23, South Carolina 21

The advanced statistics predict a slim Vanderbilt win. This is based on South Carolina's slow start (if you can call 5-1 slow) to the season and the absence of Lattimore. It also includes a half year of Larry Smith for the Commodores.

Looking past the statistics, there are a few key factors to take into account.

1) Can South Carolina's rush defense improve on last year's performance and contain the dynamic combination of Rodgers and Stacy?

2) Can Connor Shaw continue his efficient play from the latter half of last season, both through the air and on the ground?

3) Will we see the Lattimore who shredded Vanderbilt's defense last year, or the version who struggled against Auburn and Mississippi State before injuring his knee?

I think #1 and #2 both end up in South Carolina's favor but am more worried about #3.

Vanderbilt is no pushover at home. They beat Ole Miss 30-7, lost to Georgia 28-33 on a dropped pass in the end zone, lost to Arkansas 28-31 on a fluke 100 yard fumble return and a missed chipped shot field goal, and beat Kentucky 38-8. However, I think South Carolina will make Vanderbilt one dimensional on offense by shutting down the passing game and use a mix of constant gains on the zone read with an efficient passing game on offense to score enough points to overcome the Commodores.

My guess is a close 24-21 win for the Gamecocks.

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