SB Nation’s Bill Connelly is as good at crunching the numbers as anyone out there on the Web today. I’m always interested to see his deep dive analytics that go beyond the normal stats and uncover a college football team’s strengths and weaknesses. (He also does a team-by-team FBS preview every single season that should be making its way to the SEC fairly soon, so if you’re looking for a more cerebral viewpoint of South Carolina football, I’d definitely recommend reading it.)
Today, in his latest piece, Bill looked at every team’s three-and-out rate last year. As you might imagine, the Gamecocks ranked in the lower half in that category: out of 163 offensive possessions, they went three-and-out 37 times (or at a 22.7% rate), which ranked 85th out of 128 FBS programs. Not awful, but it certainly didn’t set the world on fire. It was better than Georgia’s 22.75%, but the two teams were last in the SEC in that category.
When you dig a little deeper, though, at any possessions that ended without points in three or less plays (which Bill calls three-and-out plus), South Carolina actually ranked a little better: they had 48 of those (29.4% of their 163 offensive possessions), putting them at 59th. That puts them ahead of Kentucky (65th), Tennessee (67th), Texas A&M (75th) and Georgia (89th) among other league teams. As Bill notes, the 3&O+ number includes end-of-half possessions - so that number might be a little bloated - but it does include drive-killing turnovers.
Things get a little bit sticker on the defensive side of the ball when you look at three-and-outs and three-and-outs plus forced by the Gamecocks. In the former, South Carolina was only able to force 30 three-and-outs in 164 defensive series (18.29%, 101st out of 128 team), which means that over 81% of those resulted in the opposition picking up a first down. In 3&O+, the team held opponents to 47 of those, which works out to 28.66% and 91st.
A few things to gather from this:
—South Carolina’s defense was on the field longer than it would have liked to have been. That was obviously a big point of concern for Will Muschamp last year, and getting them off the field will hold an equally important focus in 2017.
—Offensively, the Gamecocks were...a little less than OK at sustaining possessions. But they could have moved up significantly if they were slightly more successful at doing so: just ten more drives with conversions would have put them in the top 25 in that category.
—This means absolutely nothing if you can’t score points, generate meaningful offense, or keep the other team off the board, as Bill alluded to in his piece. Looking at S&P+ ratings (created by Bill himself), the Gamecocks were 107th out of 128 FBS teams at 23.1. On defense, they were at 50th (27.4) - not great, but not terrible, either. (An explanation of what S&P+ is can be found here.)