Twice on the radio this week, I've called South Carolina the proverbial Crazy Guy in the Fight. The Gamecocks are the Stephen Jackson of college football teams, explosive and occasionally brilliant, but inconsistent enough to only be good overall, not great. Steve Spurrier has quite a few playmakers, but they don't make plays in succession. For every bomb, there are a few three-and-outs. For every explosive Mike Davis run, there is a handful of two-yard runs.
Case in point: Last Saturday against Tennessee, Connor Shaw completed a perfect, 76-yard bomb to Damiere Byrd on the first play of the second quarter. His other 24 pass attempts (including sacks) netted 68 yards. Two big Mike Davis carries gained 66 yards (45 and 21); his other 19 carries gained 71. And despite Tennessee going three-and-out seven times (which typically results in a big field position advantage for the other team), the Gamecocks did it themselves six times and lost the field position battle by 15 yards per possession (average starting field position: Tennessee 35, SC 20).
South Carolina is a little too good at getting in its own way. But ... if the Gamecocks get rolling, then like Stephen Jackson, they can blow you out before you even realize what's happening.
It would be rude of Carolina to cost Mizzou a Gameday appearance (the word from ESPN was that Gameday would have come to Columbia if Carolina hadn't lost), then turn around and beat the Tigers; but it wouldn't be all that surprising either. Mizzou's biggest advantage is in pure consistency. Hopefully it stays that way.
Dylan Thompson (6'3, 218, Jr.) | 29-for-51 (57%), 421 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 2 sacks (7.8 yards per attempt)
Connor Shaw (6'1, 209, Sr.) | 92-for-145 (63%), 1,307 yards, 11 TD, 1 INT, 12 sacks (7.9 yards per attempt)
Brendan Nosovitch (6'1, 220, RSFr.)
Connor Shaw gets hurt a lot. Because of that, Dylan Thompson has managed to throw 178 passes in a backup role over the last two years. Thompson is more of a typical passer -- Shaw is both a dual-threat and a guy who likes to dink-and-dunk a lot before attempting to strike deep -- and I think it's probably good that he's in instead of Shaw because of Shaw's knee injury (one that has prevented him from practicing but might not prevent him from playing if Thompson is struggling). Still, he's not an overwhelmed rookie, and the biggest way the gameplan changes is that more of the running load goes to Mike Davis; Shaw is a pretty scary runner, and Thompson very much is not.
Mike Davis (5'9, 215, So.) | 132 carries, 879 yards (6.7), 10 TD | 22 targets, 17 catches, 191 yards (8.7 per target)
Shon Carson (5'8, 219, So.) | 21 carries, 69 yards (3.3) | 2 targets, 2 catches, 21 yards (10.5)
Connor McLaurin (6'0, 237, Jr.)
Jordan Diaz (6'1, 233, Jr.)
It always surprises me to see Mike Davis' height and weight. He runs big. He looks 6'2, 235 when he's got the ball in his hands in the open field. And he's got lovely breakaway speed. On a per-carry basis, he was perhaps even better than Marcus Lattimore last year. Including targets, he gets about 22 touches per game, and he's really, really scary once he gets rolling.
As has already been pointed out in the RMN comments section today, Davis is similar in stature and talent to Toledo's David Fluellen, who had himself a hell of a day against Missouri (17 carries for 111 yards; 10 catches for 100 yards). But as was also pointed out (I'm slow on the draw this week, evidently), a lot of Fluellen's success came from forcing Missouri into a nickel formation, then running on it. A pure power-and-play-action attack certainly could work against Missouri's 4-3 defense ... but it hasn't yet this season. Andrew Wilson stands up fullbacks as well as anybody in this league, and while it would be easy to draw a "The starting QB is out, so lean on the good RB" conclusion here, I assume we'll see quite a bit of dinking and dunking instead, even with Thompson behind center.
For one thing, the dink-and-dunk worked wonderfully against Missouri last year. The Tigers didn't have much problem with the South Carolina running game (Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles: 3.8 yards per carry), but the short dump-offs to Lattimore, Miles and tight end Justice Cunningham were effective enough (13-for-14 for 137 yards) to eventually open up the longer passes.
For another, Carolina does still throw to the backs frequently -- Davis is averaging three targets per game.
And for another, South Carolina has a bunch of tiny, quick wideouts who can do some pretty strong things in space.
Damiere Byrd (5'9, 166, Jr.) | 33 targets, 19 catches, 384 yards (11.6), 3 TD
Shaq Roland (6'1, 190, So.) | 14 targets, 8 catches, 161 yards (11.5), 1 TD
Shamier Jeffery (6'1, 207, So.) | 8 targets, 5 catches, 32 yards (4.0)
Bruce Ellington (5'9, 196, Jr.) | 32 targets, 21 catches, 332 yards (10.4), 3 TD
Pharoh Cooper (5'11, 184, Fr.) | 3 targets, 1 catch, 12 yards (4.0)
K.J. Brent (6'4, 188, So.) | 1 target, 1 catch, 9 yards
Nick Jones (5'7, 174, Jr.) | 28 targets, 19 catches, 195 yards (7.0), 3 TD
Kane Whitehurst (5'11, 179, So.) | 4 targets, 2 catches, 44 yards (11.0), 2 TD
Kwinton Smith (6'4, 212, RSFr.) | 3 targets, 3 catches, 20 yards (6.7)
In the absence of Ace Sanders in 2013, South Carolina has done some interesting things in terms of ball distribution. Whereas a No. 1 receiver usually commands a target rate between 25-40%, the Gamecocks instead have five players between 11-18%. And the top three wideouts are all built almost the same (with only Ellington's muscle mass differentiating him from the other two; dude is thick).
For what it's worth, when Thompson played most of the game against UCF, he mostly favored Byrd and Ellington (8-for-17 for 158 yards), but he did also look Anderson's way quite a bit with little success (2-for-6 for 34).
There's a lot of speed here. And if Missouri does in some way get distracted by the run, the play-action potential is a bit scary.
Corey Robinson (6'8, 341, Jr.) | 16 career starts (7 in 2013)
Mason Zandi (6'9, 293, RSFr.) | 1 career start (1 in 2013)
In virtually every line stat I have, South Carolina grades out somewhere between average and good. Never great, never bad. If there's one feature of this line that jumps out at you, however, it's the size. The starters average 6'4, 322, quite a bit heavier than the normal line (even the normal SEC line). The interior guys aren't that much bigger than average, but it will be interesting to watch the matchup between Mizzou's great ends and two massive human beings in Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell. Hopefully quickness wins out there.
Issue: South Carolina returns only one of its top five running backs, and the ground game was really only above-average at best, even when Marcus Lattimore was healthy.
Response: Jadeveon Clowney.
Issue: South Carolina also returns only one of its top four receiving targets from a passing game that was explosive but not incredibly efficient.
Response: Jadeveon Clowney.
Issue: South Carolina must also replace its top five linebackers, not to mention stud safety D.J. Swearinger and stud end Devin Taylor from a defense that was perilously thin last year.
Response: Jadeveon Clowney.
Now, if any single defensive player could carry a good team to greatness, it's Clowney. But he alone is not going to mask the other issues South Carolina had last year. To live up to even Top 10 hype, much less Top 3 hype, the Gamecocks are going to need some freshmen and sophomores to rather quickly come up big, and that's always a scary proposition.
The schedule is strangely navigable, yes, and the ceiling is high; but it's difficult for me to see this team as a reliable threat to reach the BCS title game.
I don't get 'em all right (I'm still mad at you, Texas), but it turns out my distrust for the Gamecocks was well-founded. Clowney just hasn't gotten enough help in 2013; there are play-makers here, but not enough of them, and on passing downs South Carolina is actually pretty glitchy -- ninth in Standard Downs S&P+, 76th in Passing Downs S&P+ -- despite what you would assume is a pretty strong pass rush. There hasn't been enough production from the other ends and potential blitzing linebackers to get Clowney out of double-teams.
Chaz Sutton (6'5, 263, Sr.) | 15.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL (2 sacks), 2 QB hurries
Gerald Dixon (6'2, 268, So.) | 2.5 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QB hurry
Mason Harris (6'3, 218, So.) | 3.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 QB hurry
Kelcy Quarles (6'4, 298, Jr.) | 16.5 tackles, 7 TFL (5 sacks), 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 QB hurry
Phillip Dukes (6'3, 315, So.) | 6.0 tackles, 1 FF
Kelsey Griffin (6'2, 292, Fr.) | 4.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)
Jadeveon Clowney (6'6, 274, Jr.) | 16.0 tackles, 5.5 TFL (2 sacks), 1 FF, 6 QB hurries (6 games)
Darius English (6'6, 226, RSFr.) | 8.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF, 1 QB hurry
There's still talent here, of course. It feels like Kelcy Quarles is a ninth-year senior, not a junior. And Chaz Sutton certainly showed some potential last year. But Sutton hasn't taken advantage of single coverage opposite Clowney, and this unit as a whole is just good, not great.
(And yes, there are two Gerald Dixons here. And two Kelcy/Kelseys.
T.J. Holloman (6'2, 228, RSFr.) | 23.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Kaiwan Lewis (6'0, 221, So.) | 21.0 tackles, 2 TFL (6 games)
Jonathan Walton (6'0, 234, Fr.) | 3.5 tackles
Marcquis Roberts (6'1, 225, So.) | 25.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL (1.5 sacks), 1 FF, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Skai Moore (6'2, 205, Fr.) | 21.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)
Cedrick Cooper (6'2, 213, So.) | 0.5 tackles
Sharrod Golightly (5'10, 195, Jr.) | 22.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (1.5 sacks), 2 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Jordan Diggs (6'0, 214, RSFr.) | 7.5 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Larenz Bryant (6'0, 215, Fr.) | 0.5 tackles
Last year's SPUR linebacker DeVonte Holloman had eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven passes defensed. This year's, Sharrod Golightly, is on pace for about five, three, and four, respectively. His backup, Jordan Diggs, seems like a potential playmaker, but for one reason or another (reliability, consistency, whatever), he hasn't seen the field much.
Last year's free safety, D.J. Swearinger, had three tackles for loss and nine passes defensed. Combined, Chaz Elder and T.J. Gurley are on pace for about two and two, respectively. There is little in the way of play-making from the safety position, and experienced corners Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree haven't been able to pick up the slack.
I sound pretty down on this defense, but it certainly bears mentioning that this unit still ranks 24th in Def. F/+. It's not bad by any means; it's just not as great as it was supposed to be, and through youth and turnover, you can kind of see how or why.
Elliott Fry (6'0, 150, Fr.) | 28-for-29 PAT, 6-for-7 FG (4-for-4 under 40)
Tyler Hull (6'2, 206, Jr.) | 23 punts, 37.4 average, 8 fair catches, 6 inside 20
Landon Ard (5'9, 172, So.) | 43 kickoffs, 62.3 average, 17 touchbacks (40%)
Pharoh Cooper (5'11, 184, Fr.) | 3 returns, 19.3 average (long: 21)
Bruce Ellington (5'9, 196, Jr.) | 5 returns, 21.6 average (long: 35)
Shon Carson (5'8, 219, So.) | 8 returns, 17.8 average (long: 27)
Pharoh Cooper (5'11, 184, Fr.) | 5 returns, 10.0 average (long: 36)
Victor Hampton (5'10, 202, Jr.) | 7 returns, 2.6 average (long: 13)
South Carolina currently ranks 118th in Special Teams F/+. With just a normal, average special teams unit (i.e. a unit that has a 0.0% rating instead of minus-3.1%), the Gamecocks would rank 15th in F/+, ahead of LSU. But with minimal returns and some wretched punting (118th in Net Punting), this unit has dragged the team down. There's potential in the return game (Bruce Ellington had a nice return against Missouri last year), but hopefully Andrew Baggett's kickoffs limit that as they have for most of the year (Solomon Patton's 106-yard TD aside).
Official BTBS preview coming tomorrow, but I like breaking things up like this and perusing the two-deep. Hopefully you do, too.