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By the Numbers: Vanderbilt

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South Carolina seems primed to pummel Vanderbilt on Saturday. Will they?

Two linchpins of the Carolina offense look to light up Nashville on Saturday night.
Two linchpins of the Carolina offense look to light up Nashville on Saturday night.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

With three weeks of data, it seems a good time to start previewing these games with some of the advanced statistics at our disposal.  The unfortunate reality of college football is that by the time you have enough data to figure out what's happening, it's normally too late in the season.  Still, let's take the data we have and see what we can learn about our friends from Nashville.

Overall
Record AP Rank F/+ Rank S&P+ Rank FEI Rank
South Carolina 2-1 (1-1) 14th 19 20 15
Vanderbilt 1-2 (0-1) NR 91 74 110

So good news for those of you defending computer rankings out there - they all agree that Vanderbilt is a tire fire of a team this season.  Home losses by 30 and 38 points, along with a 3-point win over one of the worst teams in college football, normally lead to that.

Meanwhile, the ratings continue to reward the Gamecocks for their strong strength of schedule.  While Carolina's record holds at 2-1, their opponents' combined record in games not involving Carolina is 5-0, which includes wins over Virginia Tech and Clemson.

When South Carolina has the ball
USC Offense VanderbiltDefense
S&P+ 117.8 (19th) 104.0 (55th)
Success Rate 42.9% (46th) 36.7% (73rd)
IsoPPP 0.93 (72nd) .94 (74th)
Rushing S&P .667 (69th) .372 (26th)
Passing S&P .979 (39th) .561 (99th)
Std. Downs S&P .833 (62nd) .474 (56th)
Pass. Downs S&P .813 (31st) .532 (98th)

Remember 30 seconds ago when we were discussing strength of schedule?  All these numbers - with the exception of the first - do not include that as a factor.  So the fact that Carolina comes out looking as good or better than Vanderbilt in these, despite their wildly disparate strengths of schedule, does not bode well for the Commodores.

Carolina actually has better numbers than they look when you look at ranking, but given the cream puffs most of college football has played the first three weeks, its hard to realistically compare the teams across just raw data.  That's why strength of schedule is so important.

Still, we see here where the Gamecocks can hammer the 'Dores - Vandy wasn't even able to stop UMass from passing at will last week, ceding 258 passing yards in 35 attempts (7.4/pass) to the Minutemen.  If that's what UMass does to them, imagine what Dylan Thompson and the USC receiving corps can do.

Run defense likely sits as Vanderbilt's overall strength this football season, and Carolina will need to get Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds going.  But given the space available in the passing game, using the pass to set up the run seems the better way to tee up the Commodores on Saturday.

When Vanderbilt has the ball
VanderbiltOffense USC Defense
S&P+ 89.4 (90th) 109.1 (38th)
Success Rate 34.4% (97th) 47.5% (124th)
IsoPPP 0.71 (122nd) .93 (70th)
Rushing S&P .558 (101st) .537 (113th)
Passing S&P .626 (109th) .593 (111th)
Std. Downs S&P .724 (89th) .578 (115th)
Pass. Downs S&P .248 (127th) .539 (105th)

Here, we really see how a failure to adjust for strength of schedule impacts these ratings.  If the Gamecock defense actually rates as a top-40 unit nationally, it needs to control a very weak Vanderbilt offense on Saturday.  If Carolina runs away from the 'Dores as expected, this sits as the biggest question mark of the afternoon - we know the USC defense can't dominate very good offenses, but is it at least good enough to put the hammer down on a team as poor as Vanderbilt?

Vandy didn't score an offensive touchdown against either Temple or Ole Miss, and averaged less than 20 yards a drive in those two games.  They really don't do anything well, and if Carolina concedes more than 17 points, it's a significant sign of concern.

Miscellaneous
South Carolina Vanderbilt
ST Points +1.6 +4.7
Field Position Adv. .458 (98th) .496 (67th)
Avg. FP (USC) 74.0 (97th) 67.9 (96th)
Avg. FP (Vandy) 68.0 (94th) 68.9 (40th)
Avg. FP Delta -6.0 +1.0

One area Vanderbilt has dominated thus far this season is special teams - it has two special teams touchdowns already this year (though they also conceded one on a fake punt against UMass), so the Gamecocks need to be wary of giving away easy points in this phase of the game.

There's nothing surprising here - Carolina is clearly the better team and should dominate the Commodores in at least two phases of the game, with special teams still an open question, though obviously showing improvement.  If everything plays out to plan, expect a smooth first road trip of the season and likely waking up on Sunday morning back in first place in the SEC East.