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South Carolina thrives at preventing big plays. Mizzou will live and die with efficiency.

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Bend-don’t-break is the name of the game in Columbia East.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky killed Missouri by making big offensive plays and preventing the Tigers from matching them. The Wildcats are very much a bend-don’t-break outfit, and Missouri is evidently still too young and inconsistent to move methodically down the field.

The good news, of course, is that there’s time. The starting quarterback is a sophomore, the best running back a freshman, the most successful (on average) receivers freshmen and sophomores. The line has no senior starters. There is plenty of time to build consistency, and over time it probably will.

The bad news: “Over time” means “probably not by this Saturday.” Mizzou’s offense now faces a defense even more effective at the bend-don’t-break game than Kentucky.

South Carolina ranks 80th in success rate allowed and seventh in IsoPPP. The Gamecocks will give you all the four- to six-yard gains you want but have given up just nine gains of 30-plus yards all season, third in the country. For an offense reliant on sudden bursts, this is troubling.

Defensive line

DE

  • Marquavius Lewis (6’3, 270, Sr.) — 23.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL
  • D.J. Wonnum (6’4, 240, Fr.) — 14.0 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack)
  • Shameik Blackshear (6’4, 265, RSFr.)

DT

  • Taylor Stallworth (6’2, 310, Jr.) — 21.0 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU
  • Keir Thomas (6’2, 265, Fr.) — 11.5 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack), 1 FF

DT

  • Kelsey Griffin (6’2, 295, Sr.) — 15.5 tackles, 1 TFL
  • Ulric Jones (6’5, 300, Jr.) — 18.5 tackles, 2 PBU

DE

  • Dante Sawyer (6’3, 275, Jr.) — 9.5 tackles, 3 TFL (1 sack), 2 PBU
  • Darius English (6’6, 245, Sr.) — 28.5 tackles, 7.5 TFLs (6.5 sacks), 1 PBU, 2 FF

Furthur proof of bend-don’t-break concept: South Carolina gives up at least five yards on 44 percent of opponent carries; that opportunity rate is among the nation’s bottom 15 (115th). They have given up 57 rushes of 10-plus yards (110th) ... and only six of 30-plus (71st).

Meanwhile, they’ve given up just three passes of 30-plus.

This is bad news for the Mizzou passing game, but it does suggest the Tigers could establish a rhythm on the ground. As all-or-nothing as the pass can be at times, Damarea Crockett’s strength lies in his ability to squirt through the line and fall forward for a few yards.

Crockett’s opportunity rate is a whopping 49%, which ranks second among the 109 FBS backs with at least 95 carries. We’re probably not talking enough about the level of efficiency he has brought to a previously destitute run game. He is not incredibly explosive — among the nine backs with at least a 45% opportunity rate, only Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. averages fewer highlight yards per opportunity — but that’s fine; South Carolina doesn’t allow you to be explosive anyway.

Mizzou had a very disappointing day running the ball against Kentucky; Crockett and Ish Witter combined to rush 18 times for just 66 yards. That won’t do in Columbia East. But if Mizzou’s line is able to establish the same type of rhythm that most lines do against South Carolina, then the Tigers will hang around.

And if Mizzou is reliant on Drew Lock passing on second- or third-and-long, another double-digit loss awaits. South Carolina isn’t amazing on passing downs, but a pass rush led by Darius English and a secondary led by exciting safeties will probably do the job.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina
Darius English & Dante Sawyer
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

SLB

  • T.J. Holloman (6’2, 230, Sr.) — 39.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF
  • Chris Moody (6’1, 220, Sr.) — 24.0 tackles, 1 FR

MLB

  • Jonathan Walton (6’0, 230, Sr.) — 30.0 tackles, 4 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 1 FF

WLB

  • Bryson Allen-Williams (6’0, 230, Jr.) — 38.0 tackles, 7 TFL (1 sacks), 1 PBU

South Carolina is inefficient against the run but does produce quite a few negative plays. And if those negative plays happen, they’re probably coming from Jonathan Walton and Bryson Allen-Williams. The two have produced nine non-sack tackles for loss even while contributing to a solid pass defense. And as the big-play numbers suggest, they don’t miss many tackles. The line might be forcing them to make a lot of tackles five or six yards downfield, but they’re steady.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Bryson Allen-Williams
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary

CB

  • Rashad Fenton (5’10, 190, So.) — 16.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
  • Steven Montac (5’11, 190, So.) — 9.5 tackles, 1 PBU

S

  • D.J. Smith (5’11, 195, Jr.) — 45.5 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT

S

  • Chaz Elder (6’2, 200, Sr.) — 16.0 tackles, 2 PBU

CB

  • Chris Lammons (5’10, 190, Jr.) — 26.5 tackles, 4 TFL (1 sacks), 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF
  • Jamarcus King (6’2, 180, Jr.) — 35.0 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF

NB

  • Jordan Diggs (6’0, 205, Sr.) — 13.5 tackles

That SC ranks 77th in Passing Downs S&P+ is reason for hope, even if it’s not something you want to rely on; then again, Mizzou’s offense ranks 87th on such downs. This battle will be fought on standard downs, where SC’s D ranks 33rd and Mizzou’s O ranks 19th.

Mizzou success will again require youngsters stepping up. One would assume Chris Lammons will be matched up pretty frequently with No. 1 target J’Mon Moore, and as is the case with most SEC No. 1 CBs, that probably means Advantage: Mizzou Opponent.

Then again, Moore has fallen into enough of a funk over the last month that maybe it would be smart to match Lammons up against a variety of Missouri receivers, keeping Lock off-balance.

Nobody was happier than Moore to see October end: In the last four games, he caught just 7 of 21 passes for 117 yards (5.6 per target), and he lost a devastating fumble at the end of his one big catch.

Until or unless Moore bounces back, the onus will be on younger receivers like Dimetrios Mason, Johnathon Johnson, and Emanuel Hall. And I would expect Lock to keep trying to lean on tight ends ... though SC’s speedy linebackers could make that an awkward matchup.

Tennessee v South Carolina
D.J. Smith & Rashad Fenton
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Special Teams

K

  • Elliott Fry (6’0, 170, Sr.) — 16-16 PAT, 4-4 FG under 40, 4-7 FG over 40; 31 kickoffs, 13 touchbacks, 30.1 KR average allowed (2 TD)

P

  • Sean Kelly (5’10, 190, Sr.) — 51 punt, 41.6 average, 21 fair caught, 22 inside 20, 6.1 PR average allowed

KR

  • A.J. Turner (5’10, 195, RSFr.) — 12 KR, 25.5 average (long: 80)
  • Rashad Fenton (5’10, 190, So.) — 2 KR, 36.0 average (long: 50)

PR

  • Rashad Fenton (5’10, 190, So.) — 2 PR, 4.0 average (long: 5)
  • Chris Lammons (5’10, 190, Jr.) — 2 PR, 6.5 average (long: 19)

South Carolina has a bit of an all-or-nothing special teams unit. The Gamecocks are 13th in punt return success rate (their return men haven’t shown much, but I’m thinking they’re good at coming up and fair catching balls to prevent healthy bounces. (One note here: SC has fumbled three times on punt returns, losing two.)

They’re also 21st in place-kicking, with 17th-year senior Elliott Fry providing a sure three points on most scoring opportunities.

At the same time, Fry’s kickoffs rarely reach the end zone, and SC is allowing 30.1 yards per return (with two touchdowns), dead last in the country. If Mizzou (94th in KR success rate) has some big returns saved up, now would be a good time to unleash them. Also: SC ranks 114th in kick return success rate, though that doesn’t really matter considering Tucker McCann’s 75% touchback rate.