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USC-Missouri advanced statistics-based preview

Get prepared for a defensive battle this Saturday, if the numbers are to be trusted. Both teams sport top 20 defenses but below average offenses (though only slightly so in South Carolina's case).

I have laid out the three key questions that will determine this game.

1) How explosive will South Carolina's passing game be on successful pass plays and will they have enough of these?

The Gamecock pass offense has been on fire the last two weeks-when it can manage a successful pass play.* Unfortunately, this has only been 40% of the time due to the large number of sacks and incompletions. Remember, Dylan Thompson was only 5/10 against UAB but threw for an average of 35 yards on those five completions, a ridiculously explosive number. On the season the Gamecocks have only been successful on 40% of pass plays (102 out of 120 teams).

* A successful play is one where the offense increases its expected points for the drive because of the result of the play. For example, a 3 yard pass play on first down is not considered a successful play, but a 5 yard pass play would be.

On the other side of the ball, Missouri has been fantastic at limiting successful pass plays, only allowing 36% to succeed, and at limiting points per play. My numbers are really positive on Arizona State so Missouri gets a lot of credit for shutting the Sun Devils down.

2) Can the South Carolina secondary limit successful passing plays?

The Gamecocks secondary has had issues preventing successful pass plays. We saw a lot of short, positive completions by East Carolina and UAB over the past two weeks. These sorts of quick passing teams have given the USC 4-2-5 trouble over the past couple years (East Carolina last year, Arkansas the past two years, Kentucky with Mike Hartline in 2010). In theory the Missouri spread offense should be designed to do the same thing, but they have not been effective at it so far this year.

The loss of D.J. Swearinger will probably exacerbate the situation. It will be interesting to see whether Lorenzo Ward sits back and plays coverage or brings additional pressure which puts extra pressure on the young secondary to remember their assignments.

3) Will Missouri try to run on the stout South Carolina front seven?

Missouri might run a spread offense, but they are primarily a running team unlike Texas Tech or ECU's Air Raid offenses. Teams have passed against the Gamecocks 47% on first down, a high number for college football, probably to take advantage of the secondary's issues at stopping the short passing game.

However, the Gamecocks rush defense has been spectacular, shutting down all three teams opponents so far. The rush defense ranks 4th in Bill Connelly's S&P and 19th in preventing successful rushes in my numbers. Missouri has been subpar running the ball this year but runs 61% of the time on first down. This is a losing strategy against the Gamecocks defense.

Prediction: I think the Gamecocks hit a few big pass plays and do enough to stop Missouri's passing game. Missouri should not be able to run the ball, putting them in third downs against Taylor and Clowney. Gamecocks win 24-17.

South Carolina offense versus Missouri defense

South Carolina Offense



Missouri Defense


Overall Offense

98.2 (60)

128.2 (16)

Overall Defense

S&P+

Pass offense

0.775 (74)

0.697 (53)

Pass Defense

S&P

Run offense

0.712 (69)

0.542 (30)

Run Defense

S&P

Adj. Points per pass play

0.138

-0.151

Adj. Points per pass play


Adj. Points per run play

-0.008

-0.137

Adj. Points per run play


Successful pass (%)

40% (102)

36% (14)

Successful pass (%)


Successful runs (%)

44% (52)

39% (48)

Successful runs (%)


Pass percentage (1D)

41%

36%

Pass percentage (1D)


Run percentage (1D)

59%

64%

Run percentage (1D)


Missouri has an advantage here, especially at limiting successful passing plays.

Missouri offense versus South Carolina defense

Missouri Offense



South Carolina Defense


Overall Offense

90.9 (80)

129.6 (14)

Overall Defense

S&P+

Pass offense

0.649 (82)

0.632 (36)

Pass Defense

S&P

Run offense

0.654 (99)

0.308 (4)

Run Defense

S&P

Adj. Points per pass play

0.026

-0.013

Adj. Points per pass play


Adj. Points per run play

-0.074

-0.164

Adj. Points per run play


Successful pass (%)

46% (64)

50% (105)

Successful pass (%)


Successful runs (%)

44% (51)

32% (19)

Successful runs (%)


Pass percentage (1D)

39%

47%

Pass percentage (1D)


Run percentage (1D)

61%

53%

Run percentage (1D)


The Gamecocks have an advantage here, especially at stopping the Tigers rushing offense. One area to watch for is whether Missouri can sustain a successful passing attack with quick, short throws.

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