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Advanced Box Score: Defense comes up when it matters

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The Gamecock defense struggled through much of the game, but its success on passing downs and in the red zone did enough to allow a stellar performance from the Gamecock offense to overwhelm Vanderbilt, 48-34.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina spent more time than it should have putting away Vanderbilt on Saturday night.  Did special teams and flukes hide overall good play?  Or did the Gamecocks' performance ultimately suggest trouble ahead?

Advanced Box Score
Vanderbilt Carolina Advantage
Points 34 48
Drives 9 11
Pts/Drive 2.22 4.36 Carolina
Plays 55 67 Carolina
Yards 379 450 Carolina
Yds. per Play 6.89 6.72 Vanderbilt
Standard Downs 6.85 7.09 Carolina
Passing Downs 7.00 5.95 Vanderbilt
Rushing 29 plays 33 plays
Rush Yds 163 228 Carolina
Rush Success Rate 51.7% 54.5% Carolina
Rush Yds/Play 5.62 6.91 Carolina
Passing 26 plays 34 plays
Pass Yds 216 222 Carolina
Pass Success Rate 42.3% 38.2% Vanderbilt
Pass Yds/Play 8.31 6.53 Vanderbilt
Penalty 35 75 Carolina
Down-by-down 47.27% 46.27% Vanderbilt
SD - Success 56.41% 48.89% Vanderbilt
SD - Yds/Play 6.85 7.09 Carolina
PD - Success 25.00% 40.91% Carolina
PD - Yds/Play 7.00 5.95 Vanderbilt
1st Down Success 57.14% 39.39% Vanderbilt
1st Down Yds/Play 7.29 5.70 Vanderbilt
2nd Down Success 35.29% 50.00% Carolina
2nd Down Yds/Play 5.53 9.05 Carolina
3rd Down Success 40.00% 58.33% Carolina
3rd Down Yds/Play 8.10 5.25 Vanderbilt
4th Down Success N/A N/A
4th Down Yds/Play N/A N/A
Quarter-by-quarter
1Q Success Rate 43.8% 18.2% Vanderbilt
1Q Yards/Play 5.38 2.73 Vanderbilt
2Q Success Rate 42.9% 50.0% Carolina
2Q Yards/Play 5.14 8.17 Carolina
3Q Success Rate 55.6% 45.0% Vanderbilt
3Q Yards/Play 8.67 5.60 Vanderbilt
4Q Success Rate 50.0% 61.1% Carolina
4Q Yards/Play 8.94 8.94 Carolina
Starting Field Position Own 28 Own 31 Carolina
Turnovers 2 1 Carolina
Scoring Trips 5 9 Carolina
Pts/Trip 4.0 5.3 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 trips - drives with one first down inside the opposing team's 40-yard line

Five thoughts on a disappointing trip to Nashville:

1. Once again, South Carolina won the red zone battle

This box score does not count special teams scores in its computation of points per drive or points per scoring trip, which is why the algebra for Vanderbilt doesn't work out the way you might normally think.  That said, Carolina's ability to keep putting up points when they got their chances - eight scoring trip possessions ended with six touchdowns and two field goals.

Meanwhile, the Gamecock defense prevented the Commodores from turning their yards into points.  Of their five scoring trips, they only scored two touchdowns and two field goals, to go along with a missed field goal.  The Gamecocks weren't perfect, but they did a good job of getting 6s and forcing 3s, and that normally wins otherwise close games.

2. A great night on the ground... for the offense

Lost in all the consternation about how poorly Carolina played in some aspects of the game is how well they played in others.  The offense put up 41 points in 11 drives (7 points came from a pick-6 from Brison Williams), which represents a rate that will win most ballgames the Gamecocks play.

While Dylan Thompson (and at times, his receivers) seemed just a bit off all night - a few overthrows, a Rory Anderson catch with his toes on the sideline - the running game produced almost at will, with over half of Carolina's runs graded as successful and an average of 6.9 yards per carry.  That'll get it done against just about anyone.

On the other hand, the defense bled out a nearly identical success rate for the Commodores - 51.7%, and gave up over 5.5 yards per carry.  It's one thing to allow that type of clip against the top offenses the Gamecocks saw early in the year, but against this putrid Vanderbilt team, it's merely more cause for concern for a defense that has significantly regressed since 2013.

3. The defense got Vanderbilt off the field

One area the defense did play well was, when it did get the Commodores' backs against the wall, it finished the job.  A 25% success rate in passing downs means that once Vanderbilt fell behind schedule, the Gamecocks got off the field.  While five scoring trips in nine drives isn't anything to write home about, the defense did do a fine job of keeping Vanderbilt out of the end zone, and conceding 20 points in nine drives was a credible effort from a unit that cannot and will not be expected to carry this team.

4. LOL special teams, but it actually didn't kill us

As others have pointed out elsewhere, in some respects special teams had a solid night.  Elliott Fry continued to make his field goals, and the field goal defense added yet another block.  Importantly, Tyler Hull helped keep Vanderbilt backed up most of the night.  He punted three times, and Vanderbilt's field position after two of those punts was its own 9 and its own 13 (the third was its own 40, aided in part by punting from the Carolina 25, but even then, a net punt of 35 yards isn't terrible).

Our return game continued to do nothing, with Pharoh Cooper netting just one return yard against three punts from Vanderbilt, and Shon Carson and the kickoff return unit not putting together a return in excess of 22 yards.  And of course, kickoff coverage was woeful, aside from its flukish recovery of a squib kick.  But all in all, special teams didn't keep Vanderbilt in this game - Carolina's defense and its 6.9 yards per play against did.

5.  It's time for concern

Overall, the offensive numbers here look fine, and could look better - again, the passing game missed lots of opportunities, but the run game was excellent and the offense finished drives.

But the defense seems like its only competency at this point is bowing up in the red zone.  Against ECU, Georgia, and now Vanderbilt, they've conceded huge chunks of yards, only to help keep Carolina in the game because they kept the opposition out of the end zone.  Obviously, that didn't work at all against Texas A&M, and there should be some calls for skepticism that this defense can continue to only play well in the red zone.  If you have to pick a place to play well, that's the place to pick, but there's no real indication it's replicable.

That said, 70 of Vanderbilt's 216 passing yards came against soft coverage at the end of the game when Carolina was up three touchdowns with less than two minutes to play.  Without that four-play drive, the Commodores come in with a still bothersome 6.6 yards per pass, but only a 32% success rate, which Carolina can live with going forward.  That point made, they probably can't keep succeeding with this rush defense.

Missouri and its rather strong offense come to Columbia this Saturday, and the Gamecock offense likely needs to out-score Maty Mauk and the Tigers to win.  This is the team we have.  Let's see if they can't make the best of it.