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South Carolina Boasts One of Nation’s Best Secondaries

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The Gamecocks allow the 11th-fewest passing yards per game.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri might need non-traditional offensive production — like their game against No. 2 Georgia two weeks ago — to defeat South Carolina Saturday.

The Tigers relied heavily on the running game against the Bulldogs, as Deandre Baker held Emanuel Hall to zero catches. With his top target locked down, Drew Lock was held to just 221 yards, a completion percentage of just 47.9 percent, and no touchdowns for the first time since Sept. 16, 2017.

Senior Missouri running back Damarea Crockett mentioned after the loss to Georgia how the backs and offensive line feel like they’re just getting things going now. Tiger fans have to hope that’s the case for Saturday’s matchup with the Gamecocks.

South Carolina ranks 85th in the county in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up a staggering 171 yards per contest. Missouri’s trio of backs — Crockett, Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie — combined for 396 yards in the past two games (Crockett- 84, Rountree- 201, Badie- 101), averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

That being said, the Tigers will have to utilize all three of them in order to move the ball against the Gamecocks. Yes, Drew Lock is a stud. That’s old news. But South Carolina has allowed the 11th-fewest yards to opposing quarterbacks thus far (159.5 ypg) and have the nation’s fourth-best third down defense (opposing teams convert just 25 percent of the time).

Missouri cannot rely on passing the football early in downs, as they don’t want to see any third-and-medium-or-longs against this elite third down defense. The Tigers saw a lot of those against No. 2 Georgia, as they converted just four of 14 (28.6 percent) third down opportunities.

Rushing the ball early in downs — and changing up the look at running back — will bode well for Missouri’s offense, as it will allow for shorter third down opportunities and open up the middle of the field for Lock and his receivers.

Opening up the middle of the field will be crucial for the Tigers. South Carolina may allow hardly any passing yards each game, but quarterbacks have had efficient games against them. No. 2 Georgia’s Jake Fromm went 15-for-18 (83.3 percent) and No. 13 Kentucky’s Terry Wilson Jr. went 13-for-20 (65 percent). In its four games thus far, the South Carolina defense has allowed a 61 percent completion percentage overall.

Those two contrasting statistics surrounding the Gamecocks’ pass defense show their strategy with opposing quarterbacks. They will not get beat on big plays over the top. They’re perfectly fine with short, dink-and-dunk passes over the middle.

Aside from a 42-yard Fromm touchdown pass in Week Two, South Carolina hasn’t given up a pass of longer than 27 yards all season — only five passes of 20+ yards have been completed against them this season.

Lock completes just under 63 percent of his passes, and has a lot of options over the middle. While the first three games of the season saw Lock and Hall exploiting defenses over the top, Georgia limited that by utilizing the same strategy South Carolina does: a “shell” of defensive backs containing the deep ball.

Expect a lot of running and a lot of Albert Okuwegbunam in Saturday’s contest. Lock may not put up gawdy numbers yard-wise, but should have a very efficient game, utilizing quick passes over the middle. It will be very interesting to see how Derek Dooley decides to go after this South Carolina defense.