The numbers plus five thoughts about the debacle against Tennessee.
|Advanced Box Score|
|Yds. per Play||6.79||8.56||Carolina|
|Rushing||55 plays||34 plays|
|Rush Success Rate||60.0%||47.1%||Tennessee||43.4%|
|Passing||40 plays||39 plays|
|Pass Success Rate||45.0%||48.7%||Carolina||40.3%|
|1Q Success Rate||42.1%||47.4%||Carolina|
|2Q Success Rate||66.7%||50.0%||Tennessee|
|3Q Success Rate||52.9%||70.6%||Carolina|
|4Q Success Rate||52.6%||23.5%||Tennessee|
|Starting Field Position||Own 30||Own 25||Tennessee||Own 29.8|
|*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. This was one of the best offensive games we'll ever play
The Gamecock offense gets a lot of stick at times for not running the ball enough, but on the night both the running and passing game contributed above and beyond reasonable expectations, with the plays split nearly evenly between them. The Gamecocks succeeded on nearly half of their plays in both the run and the pass, and gained over eight yards per play in both. That's as dominant an offensive performance as you'll find.
It showed. Carolina threw up 42 points on the evening, hampered by two missed field goals along the way, as well as a turnover on downs and an interception. One of the field goals was a Hail Mary, but the other was within range, and you can't blame Dylan Thompson for not kicking the ball through the uprights, although some quarterbacks in the stadium Saturday night would've taken matters into their own hands.
Those wasted opportunities clearly hurt, but overall, it was an excellent offensive performance against a defense that has held the fort against some pretty strong offenses this season - the Gamecocks 42 points outscored the production of Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Oklahoma in their own outings against Tennessee.
2. And it didn't matter because the defense could not stop Tennessee
Despite the 42 points, the Gamecock defense let an average offense walk into Williams-Brice Stadium and have its way with them. South Carolina actually did a decent enough job of limiting big plays (it's a sad state of affairs that 6.8 yards per play represents progress of a sort), but the Volunteers 54 percent success rate meant that USC never got off the field.
645 yards later, it's a small wonder that Carolina only gave up 45 points in the Volunteers' fourteen possessions. They were heavily aided by a big goal line stand early in the game, as well as a Brison Williams interception and two consecutive missed field goals to start the second half. But they only forced three punts on those 14 possessions, and the Volunteers created 10 scoring opportunities on their 13 possessions against the Carolina defense (on the other, the interception by Dylan Thompson allowed Tennessee to start the drive with a scoring opportunity).
3. The red zone defense at least gave the Gamecocks a shot, because this could've been worse
If you credit the Tennessee offense for creating two points of value on the two drives where they stalled short (as it's not the offense's fault the kicker missed), they would've ended the game with 49 points of offensive production. The missed field goals and turnover on downs kept the Gamecocks in it by only conceding 4.1 points per scoring opportunity to the Volunteers, but when you allow nothing but scoring opportunities, it simply doesn't matter.
You obviously can't take away the plays the defense made that kept the game competitive, but it's worth noting here that this game could've easily ended with Tennessee scoring 52 points, had they simply converted scoring opportunities at the national average. And we can all do the math on what would've happened had they converted at the seven points-per-opportunity rate that Auburn posted last week, but there's no reason to beat a dead horse.
4. Special teams failed to make up the difference
Elliott Fry missed two field goals in very trying conditions, and the Gamecocks started their average possession five yards behind where Tennessee started theirs, though that's skewed in part because the Gamecocks started one drive at their own 1 yard-line, while the Volunteers started the very next drive in Carolina territory due to an interception, not special teams play. If you remove the stop on downs and the field position on the interception, both teams began drives, on average, right around the 28 yard-line.
Playing special teams to a draw isn't anything to hang your head about, and it's a drastic improvement on past performance. But, given all the grief the offense gets for doing so much but not doing just a little bit more to help the team win, it's worth noting here that special teams never once made a play to change the game. This game was won and lost by the offenses and defenses, as the third units failed to provide either squad with the extra edge needed to settle it in their favor in regulation.
5. The problem is clear, and everything else is a distraction
I try to put national averages up where we have them so you can get a sense for what "normal" football looks like, and that seems particularly important this year because, if you don't look at any other advanced box scores, you're version of normality is warped by the Gamecock offense and defense.
Brian Fremeau rates offensive and defensive performances on a game-by-game basis, weighting the performance based on game location and opponent difficulty. For example, if Alabama beat Southern Miss 42-35, the Southern Miss offense's performance would likely be rated as one of the best of the season, while Alabama's defensive performance would be rated very lowly, because we know that the Alabama defense (Southern Miss' opponent that day) is very good, and the Southern Miss offense is very bad.
So far, Fremeau has rated exactly 988 offensive and defensive performances this season, which amounts to every game played between two FBS teams. In the last two games, he rates the Carolina offensive performance as the 8th-best and 14th-best performance of any offense all year. Stated another way, the USC offense has played two games that are in the top two percent of offensive performances by FBS teams so far this season.
Unfortunately, the Gamecock defense played the 979th-best and 887th-best games of any defense this season against Auburn and Tennessee, which both rank in the bottom nine percentile of games played by defenses this year. Basically, if the Gamecocks could even put a defense out on the field that played better than just one out of every five other defenses, we'd carry wins over Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and perhaps also against Texas A&M.
You didn't need me to tell you, but the evidence is overwhelming and clear - the Carolina defense is killing this football team, and it's only gotten worse as the season has gone along. If it doesn't improve in the final three contests, not even the best offensive performances of the season can save this team from topping out at 5-7.