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Advanced Box Score: Finishing drives the difference for Carolina

The Gamecocks and Pirates each crossed the opposing 40-yard line seven times on Saturday night. But while the Gamecocks scored all seven trips, the Pirates turned the ball over once and had a field goal blocked, which led to the 10-point difference between the teams.

Mike Davis runs for a touchdown against ECU.  Finishing drives was the difference between the teams.
Mike Davis runs for a touchdown against ECU. Finishing drives was the difference between the teams.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

New here? Welcome! Every week, we break down the advanced statistics underlying the Gamecocks performance on Saturday, and add our thoughts.  If you don't like the numbers, don't worry about it - just skip to the bottom where we explain what matters.

With that introduction, let's go to the box score.

Advanced Box Score
ECU USC Advantage
Points 23 33
Drives 10 9
Pts/Drive 2.30 3.67 USC
Plays 68 76 USC
1st Down 50.0% 42.1%
2nd Down 30.9% 39.5%
3rd Down 17.6% 17.1%
4th Down 1.5% 1.3%
Yards 453 441 ECU
Yds. per Play 6.66 5.80 ECU
Standard Downs 7.17 5.32 ECU
Passing Downs 5.45 7.15 USC
1st Down 6.85 3.66 ECU
2nd Down 7.29 7.60 USC
3rd Down 5.25 7.15 USC
4th Down 4.00 3.00 ECU
Rush Yds 132 175
Rush Yds/Play 6.29 4.61 ECU
Pass Yds 321 266
Pass Yds/Play 6.98 7.00 USC
Penalty 60 40 ECU
Success Rate 51.47% 50.00% ECU
Standard Downs 60.42% 55.36% ECU
Passing Downs 30.00% 35.00% USC
1st Down 52.94% 40.63% ECU
2nd Down 47.62% 56.67% USC
3rd Down 50.00% 53.85% USC
4th Down 100.00% 100.00% DRAW
Turnovers 2 1 USC
Scoring Trips 7 7 DRAW
Points 23 33
Pts/Trip 3.3 4.7 USC
*Standard downs - all 1st downs, 2nd and less than 8, 3rd/4th and less than 5
*Passing downs - all other downs
*Scoring trips - trips inside the opposing team's 40-yard line

Here are five thoughts on the numbers above:

1. Carolina finished their drives, ECU didn't, and that's the difference

Normally, two teams go about things somewhat differently, and it's somewhat easy to get five thoughts about the box score, at least when it comes to contrasts between the two performances.

This week?  Not really.  The Pirates were a little better on first down, the Gamecocks on second and third, but the main difference between the teams came when the drives ended - Carolina put up points on all seven trips, while the Pirates left points on the board twice.  Both teams could've done better - the game had seven field goals between the two teams - but rather than make Carolina pay for not finishing their own drives, the Pirates did them one worse.  It's an oddly brutal thing to gain 45.3 yards per drive and only score 2.3 points per drive.

2. Outside of bowing up at the end of drives, the defense really didn't do a lot

The upside of the first point is that the Gamecocks bent, but didn't break.  The downside is there's no reason to think they won't start breaking again, starting next week against Georgia.

South Carolina did do a good job of finishing the Pirates when they got them behind schedule.  The Pirates only succeeded on 30% of their passing downs, and averaged just 5.45 yards per play on those plays.  The problem was that Carolina couldn't put them in enough passing downs, giving up a success rate of over 60% on standard downs for 7.2 yards per play.  If you're going to specialize in passing downs - and given last week's performance, there's no reason to think the Gamecocks do - you need to at least get people behind schedule at times.

3. On the other hand, the Gamecocks caught up when they had to, but still weren't efficient

Carolina went the other way.  While they succeeded on over 55% of their standard downs, they weren't doing so with big chunks of yards, averaging just 5.3 per play.  But when they got behind, while they still didn't succeed a ton, they went and got yards, averaging 7.2 yards per play on passing downs.  If you think of Dylan Thompson as a boom-or-bust quarterback, nothing about these numbers surprises you.

4. The Gamecocks have to get better on first down

It's only one number, but 3.7 yards per play on first down is setting your offense up for trouble.  A lot of that is a mix of 5-yard rushes and incompletions, but the Gamecocks can't spend a lot of next Saturday in 2nd and 3rd and long and expect to come out of it alive.

5. Special teams played to a draw, and that's enough on nights like Saturday

Elliott Fry made all four of his field goals, the field goal defense blocked one of ECU's attempts.  The Gamecocks averaged 20.7 yards per return, while ECU put up 21 yards per attempt.  Landon Ard knocked five touchbacks out of his eight attempts, with none out of bounds.  Tyler Hull only punted once, but boomed a 52-yarder that the Gamecocks downed within the five.

None of these plays won the game, but they represent dozens of extra yards that Carolina gave away last season.  This year, with a team that doesn't appear to be as good on either side of the ball, they'll need those extra yards.  While this one performance doesn't indicate that the Gamecocks have cured every special teams problem they have, right now, a draw is good enough on this side of the ball.