|Advanced Box Score|
|Yds. per Play||8.89||6.22||Auburn|
|Rushing||47 plays||33 plays|
|Rush Success Rate||59.6%||33.3%||Auburn|
|Passing||15 plays||53 plays|
|Pass Success Rate||73.3%||45.3%||Auburn|
|1Q Success Rate||41.2%||50.0%||Carolina|
|2Q Success Rate||76.5%||36.8%||Auburn|
|3Q Success Rate||78.6%||52.2%||Auburn|
|4Q Success Rate||57.1%||28.6%||Auburn|
|Starting Field Position||Own 18||Own 29||Carolina|
|*Standard downs - all 1st downs, 2nd and less than 8, 3rd/4th and less than 5|
|*Passing downs - all other downs|
|*Success is 50% of yards on 1st, 70% of yards on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd or 4th|
|*Scoring opps. - drives with one first down inside the opposing team's 40-yard line|
1. The defense's collapse was total
There's not a bright spot to be found, unless you want to ignore everything other than the first quarter, where Carolina still gave up a success rate and yards-per-play that was mediocre at best. Auburn's offense dominated every quarter, they dominated via the run and the pass, and they dominated on standard downs and passing downs.
They were efficient, with a success rate of 63% that's barely heard of when two major-conference schools play one another. They made big plays, posting an 8.9 yards-per-play rate. It took Auburn only 62 plays to score 42 points, and that's with the offense and special teams consistently keeping the Tigers in tough spots when it came to starting field position, as well as avoiding giving away points.
South Carolina cannot play defense at this level and expect to win football games. Whatever changes need to be made to improve the defense, they need to be made, because no team can beat good teams with performances like these.
2. The offense played incredibly, based primarily on the play of Dylan Thompson
Despite the protestations across the fan base for Spurrier to just RUN THE DAMN BALL, the passing game kept Carolina around on Saturday night. Mike Davis and company did an excellent job catching the ball out of the backfield, but they regularly didn't pick up enough yards to deem a play successful (a success rate of 33% on rushing plays) and posting a sub-standard 3.6 yards-per-play.
That left it on the passing game. Spurrier dialed up 53 pass plays on the evening, and he and Thompson combined to put up a success rate of 45 percent, earning almost eight yards a play. That's elite ball movement that looks slightly less outstanding only because it's held up against what the Auburn offense did to our porous defense. Unlike their Auburn counterparts, the Gamecock offense didn't have the luxury of playing against a soft opponent. It had to go up against one of the better defensive units in the SEC, and it stood up and punched them in the mouth for four quarters.
3. Special teams did its job
Some of the field position numbers improve because the Gamecock offense turned the ball over in Auburn territory three times, but the Tigers never started a drive closer than 75 yards away from the end zone. All night, the Gamecock offense and special teams combined to give the defense the best possible chance to stop the Tigers. The defense did nothing with it.
More importantly, as noted above, special teams gave Carolina two extra possessions, one of which coming on a very well-executed onside kick. This unit gets a ton of grief from fans (and this blog), but on Saturday night, it performed at a level that not only gave the Gamecocks a chance to win, but measurably assisted in putting them in a position to steal a victory.
4. Extra drives kept Carolina in it, but finishing did them in
South Carolina finished each half with the ball, which gives you one extra possession. That, combined with a special teams turnover by Auburn and an onside kick, gave the Gamecocks three extra chances at Auburn. The Carolina offense turned that advantage into two extra scoring opportunities, but instead of finishing the drives with points, they finished three of them with turnovers.
Had the Gamecocks converted each of those into just field goals, they come away winners. That said, it's difficult to ask even elite quarterbacks to get through 53 passing plays without a single turnover, but the fact remains that, while the defense was the reason the Gamecocks lost the game, they would've still won had they simply avoided the three interceptions.
That said, on the other side of the ball, if the Gamecock defense can put together even one stop on Auburn when it traveled inside the 40, the Gamecocks kick a field goal at the end of the game instead of forcing the ball downfield, and we at least see overtime between these two teams. The offense left opportunities on the table, but the story of this game always goes back to the fact that the defense barely gave the Gamecocks a chance.
5. Extra plays also kept the Gamecocks in it, thanks to Spurrier's aggressive play-calling
Carolina hit on five of six fourth down conversions, extending drives and giving them a resounding advantage in plays run (86 to 62, though some of that disparity comes from Auburn simply needing fewer plays to score). As the game went on, Spurrier continued to dial up big play after big play to keep an over-matched Gamecock squad in the game. And while he normally started on first down trying to get something going, he saved his big plays for later, as the Gamecocks' success rate shockingly increased every down - 33% on first, 40% on second, 43% on third, and 83% on fourth.
Spurrier coached one of the best games of his tenure at Carolina on Saturday night in the Plains. But the seeds for this loss were sown years ago, by recruiting decisions and player development issues on the defensive side of the ball. For the second time in his tenure (the other time being the excellent offensive unit led by Blake Mitchell in 2006), the Gamecocks are going to waste an outstanding offense thanks to a difficult schedule and a weak defense.
The question now becomes - can they fix it in 2014? And if they can't, will the defense improve enough next year to compensate for an offense that's likely to take a step back? There are no easy answers, but after the best three-year run in the history of the program, Gamecocks fans are rightly worried the program may be taking a huge step back this season, with another one to come next year.
That said, Auburn represents easily the most difficult game left on the schedule for Carolina. An 8-4 finish isn't out of the realm of possibility, although 6-6 seems more likely, with 5-7 still entirely plausible. Lorenzo Ward and the defense need to figure out the problems quick before a bad season becomes catastrophic.