I’m a guy who prides himself in numbers, especially when it comes to my sports coverage.
But when you look at the numbers South Carolina puts up week to week, it’s a miracle the Gamecocks are 6-3. Saturday’s game was another example of South Carolina not making any mathematical sense, even in a loss.
South Carolina was outgained 438-270, nearly doubled up in first downs and time of possession — those numbers indicate a massive blowout. But with the help of a bend-don’t-break defense South Carolina managed defeat by a 24-10 margin, ten points below the Vegas spread of 24.
Maybe this is just what South Carolina is destined to be under Will Muschamp. A team that manages to be competitive despite the statistical abnormalities. Either way, there’s plenty to unpack from Saturday’s game so let’s get to it:
South Carolina is fortunate to be where they are
This one is a little more big picture, but let me explain. I, the fan am thrilled South Carolina is 6-3. My guess would have been 4-5 at this point in the season, but somehow the Gamecocks have managed to put together a very respectable year considering where they are in the Muschamp rebuild.
But as I say all of that, I know what I’m watching isn’t 6-3 football. Through nine weeks my preseason suspicions have been confirmed: this is a .500 level football team punching above their weight. Look at the resume: four of the six wins have come by one score and all four of those games were decided on the final drive.
In five 50/50 ballgames, South Carolina is 4-1. Looking at the numbers, South Carolina has been fortunate to come out that well in those five games. As a fan I certainly hope those fortunes don’t run out, but my rational brain knows the Gamecocks are lucky to be bowl eligible with three games left.
Perhaps this is retribution for 2014 and 2015 when South Carolina lost every close game they played in — 2016 and 2017 are making up for all those close games lost. That is if you believe in the law of averages of course.
Georgia is a worthy No. 1
After watching Georgia for a full 60 minutes, I have no doubts they are a worthy No. 1 team. They were everything as advertised: a punishing run game, a young QB with a ton of promise and a defense that’s simply unflappable.
Georgia’s resume is the best in the country: their only win with a single-digit scoring margin came against Notre Dame. South Carolina was merely another victim on Georgia’s schedule, all of which have been dropped by the Bulldogs by at least 14 points.
If you’re into moral victories, South Carolina’s 14-point loss is the second smallest margin next to Notre Dame’s 20-19 defeat. Point being Georgia is very good and will most certainly be a problem for whoever they play, whether it be in the SEC Championship or in the CFP.
South Carolina’s defense is very predictable
I don’t want to criticize a unit that just over-performed, but it should be noted it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what hurts the South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks actually did a decent job of containing Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, which is no small task. But when it comes to the pass, that’s where South Carolina becomes most vulnerable.
The South Carolina defense is set up to prevent big plays, I’ve explained that over and over again in these blogs. The issue there is because South Carolina likes to play their secondary eight yards off the ball, this allows any route underneath that cushion a free catch and Georgia ate it up all day long.
Jake Fromm was 16-22 at 8.9 yards an attempt because he was allowed to dink-and-dunk all over the Gamecock D. Any half-ass offensive coordinator can figure this out and Travaris Robinson is still hesitant to press. So long as SC sticks to this script, they won’t fool anyone on defense.
The O-Line held their own (sort of)
The offensive line has been a constant story line for South Carolina this season, mostly in a bad way. Injuries have plagued the unit and there were already questions about just how good the group was before three starters were hurt.
While the run game wasn’t anything to gawk at (2.5 ypc on 17 rushes), the line did give Jake Bentley adequate pass protection for the entirety of the game. Bentley was pressured on just five percent of dropbacks — a very impressive number considering just how good Georgia is up front.
Give a QB like Bentley a clean pocket and he can do wonders with the football. Keep in mind Georgia is the best team South Carolina will face in any capacity this season, so things can only go up from here.
Hurt and Edwards stepped up
The past couple weeks I’ve really bragged on freshmen OrTre Smith and Shi Smith for stepping up and trying to fill the big void left behind by Deebo Samuel. But two names have been absent from that praise, big ones at that.
I’ve been waiting for Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards to simultaneously have a good game and it finally happened Saturday. While it did come in a loss, the 14 combined catches for 155 combined yards is exactly what South Carolina needs from that pair if they’re going to compete with Florida and Clemson.
Hurst and Edwards are the two best receivers on the team minus Deebo, so they’ll need to continue to be the No. 1 options going forward if South Carolina wants to win nine games this season. Which, oh yeah, is very much in the cards this season.