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Missouri At South Carolina: Beyond The Box Score Preview

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Greetings from right off of U.S. 280 in Birmingham ... I've been trying to find a damn place to post this. Finding WiFi around here has been unusually challenging. Anyway, let's do this! And yes, as always, you've got a small glossary at the bottom if you want it.

So here's the deal: South Carolina will make mistakes. The Gamecocks will turn the ball over, and their quarterback of choice will hold the ball too long and take a sack or three. If Mizzou can take full advantage of these mistakes, a road win is possible. But Mizzou's putrid run blocking will be, to say the least, detrimental, as will the Tigers' general inability to convert on passing downs (since Carolina tends to force a lot of them). This will be an SEC™ football game, determined by defense, special teams and individual big plays. Mizzou's odds aren't fantastic, but again ... Carolina will make mistakes. They will leave the door ajar ... however slightly.

South Carolina Through Three Games

S.C. Opp. S.C. Opp.
Close % 76.8% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 42.8% 41.1% Success Rate 41.5% 36.1%
Leverage % 67.0% 58.4% PPP 0.388 0.16
S&P 0.804 0.525
EqPts 83.8 39.0 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 38.3% 31.8% Success Rate 39.1% 25.3%
Close PPP 0.36 0.18 PPP 0.52 0.22
Close S&P 0.741 0.502 S&P 0.911 0.472
EqPts 31.4 7.1 Number 5 7
Close Success Rate 40.0% 22.6% Turnover Pts 24.0 43.9
Close PPP 0.31 0.08 Turnover Pts Margin +19.9 -19.9
Close S&P 0.712 0.308
Line Yards/carry 3.29 1.52 Q1 S&P 0.931 0.440
Q2 S&P 0.638 0.689
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.693 0.425
EqPts 52.4 31.9 Q4 S&P 1.140 0.500
Close Success Rate 36.2% 38.0%
Close PPP 0.41 0.25 1st Down S&P 0.863 0.605
Close S&P 0.775 0.632 2nd Down S&P 0.730 0.518
SD/PD Sack Rate 8.0% / 12.2% 8.6% / 11.5% 3rd Down S&P 0.970 0.316
Projected Pt. Margin: S. Carolina +64.7 | Actual Pt. Margin: S. Carolina +85

The QB Situation

As you have probably seen by now, South Carolina's quarterback situation has been as iffy as Mizzou's. Starer Connor Shaw looked half-terrible against Vanderbilt, then got hurt. Shaw hobbled through a 17-13 win after a brief absence, but he missed the Week 2 win over East Carolina. In his absence, backup Dylan Thompson looked strong against ECU (7.8 yards per pass attempt, three passing touchdowns, six carries for 34 yards). Shaw returned, perhaps too quickly, against UAB in Week 3, completing eight of 14 passes and taking two sacks before he had to leave the game; Thompson came in and once again looked great: 5-for-10 passing for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one sack.

Entering this week's game, Steve Spurrier insists that he's been told the hairline fracture in Shaw's shoulder will not get worse (that doesn't make sense to me, but I'm not a doctor), and that Shaw will start. Honestly, that is probably a good thing for Missouri. A 75% Shaw is not as good as a 100% Thompson in my eyes; Shaw's running ability has been hampered in the short term -- at his best, he is a better version of Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, able to tuck and run on occasion (a zone read with him and Marcus Lattimore is pretty scary) and able to throw relatively accurately on the run. When Lattimore got hurt midseason last year, the offense actually didn't drop off. Part of that was because Lattimore's backups are pretty good, and part was because of Shaw, who took the starting job from the beleaguered Stephen Garcia.

With his injury, Shaw is not nearly as much of a run threat, and that's good. But the passing game, while rather inconsistent, has shown some big-play ability here and there. And Mizzou absolutely, positively must win the big-play battle to have a chance.

Clowney And Company

Jadeveon Clowney was the Dorial Green-Beckham of the 2011 recruiting class, the athletic marvel who chose the home-state school over just about every other school in the country. It is very easy to want to compare Clowney to Georgia's Jarvis Jones, but they are different players. Jones is a 3-4 outside linebacker, Clowney a 4-3 end. Both will rotate throughout the the field at a given time, but Jones is more of a down-to-down playmaker. Here are their stats since the start of the 2011 season:

  • Clowney: 16 games, 37.0 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 11 sacks, 8 QBH, 1 PBU, 5 FF
  • Jones: 16 games, 69.0 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 17 sacks, 60 QBH, 2 PBU, 5 FF

(Every school records QB Hurries differently, and while I highly doubt Jones has had 60 -- that is more than double that of anybody else, I'm pretty sure -- let's just say that after watching him in person, I'm not entirely unwilling to believe it.)

So basically, the plays Clowney makes are huge, but he isn't as likely to impact quite as many plays overall. But that's fine for South Carolina -- their front stout is stout regardless. Weakside linebacker Shaq Wilson (13.5 tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two quarterback hurries) is the prototypical, athletic tackling machine, while tackle Kelcy Quarles (10.0 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, two sacks) is a lovely playmaker and end Devin Taylor (8.0 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss) is lovely in his own right. South Carolina's line is a little odd overall -- its ends are enormous (Clowney and Taylor average 6'7, 262), while Quarles is just 6'4, 286. So the overall average size of the line is about normal, but the distribution is unique. And there's no doubting the quality. Through three games, South Carolina is allowing a paltry 1.52 line yards per carry. (Here's your reminder that Georgia held Mizzou well below that average.) While most Mizzou fans have been taught to fear Clowney, it's the Carolina run defense up front that will kill you first.

S.C. Targets And Catches

Here's the deal: I'm not scared of Marcus Lattimore. I have no doubt that, if South Carolina builds an early lead, he will end up with something like 30 carries for 125 yards, but if MIzzou can keep the pressure on the Gamecocks, stay tied or keep the lead, then the odds of Lattimore single-handedly powering Carolina to victory are minimal. He is a good back, but he isn't always the ridiculous back we saw almost single-handedly beat Georgia last year. Most of the time, his durability, size and stamina are what make him a great weapon, not necessarily his per-carry virility.

Honestly, if South Carolina ends up winning this game by a decent margin, it will be because of the Carolina passing game. (Well, that or five Mizzou turnovers, of course.) It is a wildcard. As you see above, this has not in any way been an efficient attack, but as you'll see below, there is some serious explosiveness in players like Bruce Ellington (also the basketball team's point guard) and sophomore Damiere Byrd.

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per
Ace Sanders (WR) 17 7 41.2% 20.7% 72 4.2
Bruce Ellington (WR) 11 9 81.8% 13.4% 161 14.6
Shaq Roland (WR) 8 3 37.5% 9.8% 55 6.9
Damiere Byrd (WR) 7 4 57.1% 8.5% 188 26.9
D.L. Moore (WR) 7 2 28.5% 8.5% 45 6.4
Marcus Lattimore (RB) 7 6 85.7% 8.5% 33 4.7
Rory Anderson (TE) 6 5 83.3% 7.3% 93 15.5
DeAngelo Smith (WR) 4 1 25.0% 4.9% 30 7.5
Justice Cunningham (TE) 3 1 33.3% 3.7% 20 6.7
Nick Jones (WR) 3 2 66.7% 3.7% 19 6.3
Kenny Miles (RB) 2 1 50.0% 2.4% 18 9.0
K.J. Brent (WR) 2 2 100.0% 2.4% 14 7.0
Jerell Adams (TE) 1 1 100.0% 1.2% 33 33.0
Blair Lowery (RB) 1 1 100.0% 1.2% 5 5.0
N/A 3 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 82 45 54.9% 100.0% 786 9.6
TOTAL (WR) 59 30 50.8% 72.0% 584 9.9
TOTAL (RB) 10 8 80.0% 12.2% 56 5.6
TOTAL (TE) 10 7 70.0% 12.2% 146 14.6

Ace Sanders is 5'8, 175. Bruce Ellington is 5'9, 197. Damiere Byrd is 5'9, 168. Shaq Roland, a star freshman, is 6'1, 173. This is a quick receiving corps, but aside from D.L. Moore (6'5, 198) and the tight ends, there is not much size. That presents a unique challenge. Kip Edwards is much better against bigger receivers than quicker ones, and quite frankly, E.J. Gaines doesn't have a lot of experience guarding smaller guys.

Against Vanderbilt, South Carolina's QBs completed seven of 14 passes for 67 yards and endured five sacks. Per-attempt average: 4.2 yards.

Against East Carolina, Dylan Thompson averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. Against UAB, the big plays piled up, and Thompson averaged 15.3 yards per attempt (Shaw: 5.8). This is an incredibly hit-or-miss attack, and the number of hits could determine whether this is close to a tossup game, or whether the Gamecocks win handily.


Because Carolina is averaging almost two turnovers per game ... and because the Gamecocks' special teams unit is only solid (good punt returning, average to below average everything else) ... and because of the hit-or-miss passin game ... you can almost talk yourself into Mizzou winning this game, can't you?

But honestly, I don't see how that's possible unless the Mizzou offensive line suddenly congeals and improves dramatically. And what are the odds of that?

Still, one can figure out the blueprint to a Mizzou victory: turnovers set up an easy score, maybe two. L'Damian Washington (or Marcus Lucas, or DGB) gets behind South Carolina's solid-not-great secondary (senior safety D.J. Swearinger is suspended). Snaps of all kinds do not go awry. The defense comes to play again, the Tigers make a couple more fourth-quarter plays than the hometown Gamecocks, and they win a game by a score of something like 23-17. This is certainly conceivable. But it isn't incredibly likely. More likely: a 24-13 Carolina victory.


A Quick Glossary

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Field Position %: The percentage of a team's plays run in their opponent's field position. National average: 43%.

Leverage Rate: A team's ratio of standard downs to passing downs. National average: 68%. Anything over 68% means a team did a good job of avoiding being leveraged into passing downs.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game. National average: 0.32.

S&P: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rate. The 'P' stands for PPP, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. S&P is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders. National average: 0.747. Standard downs S&P average: 0.787. Passing downs S&P average: 0.636.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. National Average: 42%.