The discussion about the South Carolina defense has oscillated wildly over the last two weeks - after the North Carolina game, we viewed our team as a group that would still struggle at times on offense, but as a defense that still commanded elite treatment, and that would keep us in any game.
Obviously, those stories have been flipped on their collective heads after Athens, where the Gamecock offense marched up and down the field while the Gamecock defense allowed Georgia to do the same.
One thing that has been lost in all the ruckus this week about play calling is that our offense literally matched the Georgia offense on a possession basis:
*Despite the fact they'd used up most of the available yards, I charged Georgia only half a possession for its final drive, since they had more yards they did not ultimately gain because the game concluded. Reasonable minds could differ on how to approach this question.
The biggest issue with the game was two-fold: we didn't close out our possessions, and Georgia got two extra possessions by virtue of (1) starting and finishing the 2nd half with the ball; and (2) the onside kick. And honestly, the "didn't close out possessions" line only means that: (1) Connor's knee came down a split second too late; and (2) Spurrier shouldn't have chosen to throw into the sun in the third quarter DAMNIT COACH HOW DO YOU MESS THAT UP?*
*I'm genuinely shocked more people weren't upset about this. I wouldn't have considered it if I were Spurrier either, but given all the other grief he's caught this week, this is one thing I haven't read. Then again, I've been traveling, so maybe it's all over the message boards.
Given the fact the onside kick kept our defense on the field - which kept them tired and prevented us putting together some adjustments - I'd continue to say it was the most important play of the game, despite what came after it.
When we take a look at how the Gamecocks performed in their first outing of the season, we quickly realize that one of those two performances was consistent with the UNC game, and one was a bit of an outlier:
|USC O (1-3Q)||374||8||46.75|
As you can tell, once you throw out the 4th quarter possessions from South Carolina's side of the ledger (when the Gamecocks were still trying to move the ball, but obviously were less interested in moving the ball than moving the clock), the Carolina offense has consistently thrown up big numbers in their two outings thus far this season against two relatively mediocre defenses. Luckily for that unit, they'll see a third one as the Vanderbilt Commodores come to town sporting a defense that got gashed pretty regularly by Ole Miss in its only competitive outing of the season thus far:
As you can tell from that table, Ole Miss wasn't lucky to walk out of Nashville with a victory - they outplayed the Commodores most of the way, albeit not by much. But if Ole Miss was able to move the ball that effectively on the road against the 'Dores, there's no reason to expect that the Gamecocks can't match or improve on that figure in Columbia.
Similarly, Vanderbilt brings a far inferior offense into Columbia as compared to Georgia. As you'll remember, we discussed in the build-up to the Georgia game that the Bulldogs put an elite offensive unit on the field. As for Vanderbilt, advanced statistics rate their offense as a very capable group, but no better than what North Carolina brought into Williams-Brice Stadium.
Obviously, the defense should not be pleased with what happened last week. But this is also the group that put on a pretty fine performance against a North Carolina offense that gashed a ton of good teams last season, and who put up 40 points and over 500 yards in their next outing (while against lowly Middle Tennessee State, we all know from prior experience that bad offenses can't put those numbers up against even middling opponents - see, e.g., the 2008 Gamecocks).
Right now, we have two pieces of evidence. Neither of them suggests that South Carolina can't stop a good, but not great, offense when playing a night game in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium.