South Carolina went to Gainesville and got out-played on offense and defense. But the long ridiculed special teams unit came up with two huge plays, and those two swung the balance from a deflating loss to a huge win for the Gamecocks.
|Advanced Box Score
|Yds. per Play
|Rush Success Rate
|Pass Success Rate
|1Q Success Rate
|2Q Success Rate
|3Q Success Rate
|4Q Success Rate
|Starting Field Position
|*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. Efficiency without explosiveness stymied the offense all day.
Dylan Thompson and the Gamecocks have done a great job of staying on schedule all season, and that pattern continued in Gainesville, as they ran 81 plays to the Gators' 61 plays by finding a way to stay on the field. They certainly didn't pick up yards in chunks - the rushing game averaged barely over three yards a carry, and the passing game posted a woeful 4.3 yards-per-play.
The key here was the success rate on second and third down - both of which were over 40%. South Carolina didn't do a great job of staying on schedule on an every-down basis, but they did a good enough job of picking up yards when they needed to, which allowed them to stay on the field.
Some of these numbers are deflated because the Gamecocks spent large portions of the second half going backward, but Carolina really struggled on offense for the first time all season. Some of that was a result of silly mistakes from its members, but a lot of that can be credited to a very good Florida defense. The concern here is that they'll face a similarly talented defense in Clemson in two weeks, and will need a much better performance to give the Gamecocks a chance, particularly if Deshaun Watson returns to play.
2. But man it was bad after the first quarter.
The first quarter wasn't completely dominant - 6.2 yards a play is hardly above the national average. But Carolina strung together drives to march on Florida twice, and they'd need every one of those points, as they couldn't create many opportunities on their own again for the rest of the game.
The second, third, and fourth quarters all belonged to Florida, particularly the second, where its offense got going for a bit. The scary thing here is that we include overtime statistics in our fourth quarter numbers, so think of how bad those would have been without the blocked punt at the end and the overtime drive to bolster them.
Again, you didn't need numbers to tell you this, but to say the offense sputtered at the end of the game would be kind to the concept of sputtering. We needed to win this game another way. Fortunately, we did.
3. Defense shuts down the pass to limit the run.
The Gators didn't play perfect via the ground, but they did a good enough job, posting five yards a carry and succeeding on just under half of their rush plays. The problem came when they needed to take it to the air - just two successful plays out of 15 attempts, though one of which went for a touchdown. Treon Harris and the Gator offense simply couldn't move the ball meaningfully against the Gamecocks, which allowed them to focus on stopping the run.
4. Plus they got them off the field.
While Carolina certainly didn't shut down the run game, they did enough to get the Gators off the field most drives. Look at the success rates on defense - a poor 54% conceded on first down, but then it ticked up to 32% on second down and 29% on third. Of course, with ultra-conservative Will Miuschamp leading the charge, the Gators didn't even consider going for it on fourth down, despite their effective running game.
Another way to look at the same issue is the success rate on standard and passing downs. Simply put, once Florida got behind, they stayed behind. It's unfortunate that the defense couldn't put them in that position even more often, but once they put Florida in a position to where it had to open things up, the Gamecocks shut the door on them.
5. Despite getting us mauled in field position, special teams won this game.
Normally we look at special teams here through field position, and in that metric, the Gamecocks got waxed. Each team had 12 meaningful possessions in regulation, and the Gators started theirs, on average, 11 yards closer to the end zone than the Gamecocks. Remember, this includes the final Carolina possession of regulation, where the Gamecocks opened the drive on the Florida 34 yard-line. It's very simple math, but 12 possessions and 11 yards-per-possession means that the Gators yardage advantage on special teams came out to a whopping 132 yards.
And yet. The Gamecocks certainly gave away too many yards in this area over the course of the game, but blocking a field goal is the difference between the two teams in the critical points per scoring opportunity, and blocking the punt gave the Gamecocks one extra scoring opportunity. Change either of those outcomes and Carolina is 4-6 with the season skidding out of control.
Special teams remains a problem for the Gamecocks in a number of ways. But on Saturday, they were the difference between a win and a loss, and for once, in the right direction.