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Advanced Statistics Preview: South Carolina vs. Tennessee

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The Gamecocks and Volunteers come into this game severely flawed teams. One leaves with the chance of making something of its season; the other finds itself relegated to the bottom of the SEC East.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks and Tennessee Volunteers came into this season expecting this game might not matter a great deal to at least one of the two teams taking the field on Saturday.  Instead, it sits as a pivotal game for both teams as they struggle to attain bowl eligibility, as well as try to place themselves towards the middle of the final SEC East standings.

Overall
Record AP Rank F/+ Rank S&P+ Rank FEI Rank
South Carolina 4-4 (2-4) NR 52 44 39
Tennessee 3-5 (0-4) NR 37 30 49

The Volunteers have had a rough go of it this year, with no SEC win so far, although they can be forgiven for losing at home to Alabama and away to Georgia and Ole Miss.  That said, their 10-9 loss to Florida represents a significant sore spot for a program that's now not beaten their SEC East rivals for a decade, despite the clear opportunities to do so over the period, as Florida has waxed and waned in strength.

Outside the SEC, the Volunteers have nice wins over two decent mid-major programs: Arkansas State and Utah State.  They also gave a decent effort in Norman against Oklahoma, although Bob Stoops and the Sooners ultimately proved too much for Butch Jones' young team to handle.

Given the fact they've stayed close in a number of games against good competition, the advanced ratings systems consider the Volunteers to be roughly the Gamecocks' equals this year.  Home-field advantage certainly helps Carolina, but there's no denying that Tennessee could easily walk out of Williams-Brice Stadium with a win on Saturday night.

When South Carolina has the ball
USC Offense Tennessee Defense
S&P+ 113.9 (26th) 120.8 (14th)
FEI .759 (3rd) -.346 (29th)
Success Rate 47.0% (23rd) 37.6% (35th)
IsoPPP 0.85 (67th) 0.29 (23rd)
Rushing S&P 123.8 (23rd) 124.5 (21st)
Passing S&P 121.2 (28th) 140.8 (8th)
Std. Downs S&P 119.2 (26th) 126.3 (9th)
Pass. Downs S&P 126.4 (25th) 145.3 (8th)
Std. Downs Run% 60.3% (56th)
Pass. Downs Run% 20.6% (117th)

South Carolina brings in either a good or great offense, depending on which system you ask.  The Gamecocks succeed both running and passing the ball, and do a good job both when on schedule and behind the chains of moving it down the field while staying on the field.  It's a team that doesn't create as many explosive plays as it has in the past, but ultimately represents a very efficient offense.

The Volunteers represent the second consecutive tough match-up for the Carolina offense, and it stands to reason the Gamecocks can't expect three extra possessions against Tennessee like they got against Auburn.  Tennessee similarly does a good job against both the run and pass, and in both standard and passing down situations.  It's an even match-up in every area, and so it should be an interesting battle.

The Gamecocks continued last week to mix the run and pass consistently on standard downs, but to basically rely on Dylan Thompson once they got behind the chains.  Whether that comes from a fear that they can't break big plays in the running game or a simple lack of creativity from Spurrier, it's clear that once the Gamecocks get behind schedule, the #RUNTHEDAMNBALL crowd has a legitimate gripe that the Gamecocks' play-calling skews heavily (and perhaps predictably) toward the pass.

When Tennessee has the ball
Tennessee Offense USC Defense
S&P+ 102.6 (54th) 96.7 (73rd)
FEI -.106 (74th) .753 (127th)
Success Rate 35.3% (117th) 48.2% (120th)
IsoPPP 0.78 (95th) 0.42 (112th)
Rushing S&P 104.9 (60th) 92.1 (90th)
Passing S&P 113.5 (40th) 105.9 (61st)
Std. Downs S&P 108.2 (46th) 96.6 (78th)
Pass. Downs S&P 114.0 (46th) 106.0 (61st)
Std. Downs Run% 50.5% (105th)
Pass. Downs Run% 23.1% (111th)

While the strengths match-up when Carolina has the ball, the game may be decided when the two weaker units take the field.  The Volunteers rely heavily on the pass, though that percentage may in part come from their spending a large percentage of games trailing the opposition.  Their passing success isn't that bad given the portrayal of the Volunteers' offense and the abilities of Justin Worley.  If heralded freshman Josh Dobbs takes the snaps, the Vols may increase their run percentage given his running abilities, but it could hurt a part of their offense that's been more successful than some believe.

While it's hard to consider anything on the defense a strength, a passing team may favor the Gamecocks, as they've actually played better against the pass than the run this season (notwithstanding the debacle that was the Texas A&M game).  The only running quarterback that Carolina has faced this season - Nick Marshall - destroyed them last week, but Tennessee simply isn't Auburn on offense.  Expect the Volunteers to get some points, but the Gamecocks should at least slow them down from time to time.

Special teams
South Carolina Tennessee
ST Points +4.7 +3.8
Field Position Adv. .484 (90th) .507 (58th)
Avg. Field Pos. Own 27.3 (103rd) Own 30 (49th)
Avg. Opp. Field Pos. Opp. 29.1 (60th) Opp. 28.4 (44th)
Delta -1.8 (86th) +1.7 (43rd)

South Carolina won the special teams battle last week against Auburn, and now has out-played its schedule of opponents in special teams on the season, despite rating just 90th in the FPA ratings.  In part, this is because those ratings don't give Carolina credit for the opposition missing field goals, given that's something generally not under the control of the team defending the field goal.  Then again, with two field goal blocks on the season, maybe these ratings slightly undervalue the Gamecocks' special teams unit.

On the other side of the ball, Tennessee brings in a decent but not outstanding special teams unit.

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Overall, there's not a lot between these two teams, so it's slightly surprising to see the Gamecocks listed as touchdown favorites coming into the game.  Home field advantage certainly plays a role in that, but perhaps so too does the switch from Worley to Dobbs.

For Steve Spurrier to continue his streak of ten straight non-losing seasons in Columbia, he needs to win two of the next four contests.  With two of those at home, those seem the easiest two to grab.  Obviously, South Carolina won't win any championships this season, aside from possibly the state championship.  But if it wants to continue its run among the top tier of the SEC East, it needs to win on Saturday night.