On Tuesday, I went over Missouri’s past performances against teams with an interim head coach. When a team is in an interim situation in the middle of the season, it usually isn’t because the team is doing particularly well and...yeah, South Carolina has been struggling this year. Yes, they beat Auburn in Week 4 (or 7 or...however we’re counting these stupid weeks) but they also lost to LSU, something that is less excusable in 2020. They were suffocated by a pre-COVID Texas A&M and then couldn’t score enough on an Ole Miss team that lets everybody name their score.
The Gamecocks’ interim is Mike Bobo who has head coaching experience in his brief stint at Colorado State and SEC experience going back to his playing days - and lengthy coordinator stint - at Georgia. He’s now tasked with captaining a sinking ship through the rest of a season with a team that has no major goals left on the table that are playing for a coaching staff that won’t be around next year*.
The Gamecocks are easily the worst team Missouri has played so far this year, and even with some COVID-forced time off and fewer practices with a thinner roster, the Tigers need to perform like this is the worst team they’ve played all year. Let’s look at the matchups that the Tigers can take advantage of:
*you don’t fire a coach midseason and create a head start on new-hire-evals over every other school to then turn around and waste that lead time by making an internal hire, especially when the team sucks
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. South Carolina’s Offense
The Gamecock offense is...not good...but the run game is the only strength they have. SEC leading rusher Kevin Harris has taken advantage of his first full year as a starter, accumulating 817 yards and 13 touchdowns on 131 rushes and averaging 5+ yards on 16% of his carries. However, Cocky’s run game has some obvious warts, namely a 18% stuff rate (runs stopped at or behind the line) and the line only opening 4-yard holes 45% of the time, ranking a very poor 87th in the country. Missouri’s defensive line has been surprisingly thin thanks to injury and COVID so the guys left will have to step up and work with Nick Bolton to keep that opportunity rate down. Keeping Carolina’s opportunity rate at 40% or lower is the goal here.
Win Passing Downs
If Missouri is accomplishing the first goal, then they’re going to have a ton of opportunities with this second goal. Collin Hill followed Mike Bobo from Colorado State and won the job from Ryan Hilinski but has struggled: he’s completing 59% of his passes, thrown 6 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and has been sacked on 9% of his drop backs. The Gamecock passing game ranks 79th, having successful plays on only 29% of their passing down plays. When they’re throwing the ball it’s quick slants and dump offs in the backfield; in fact, the average Carolina pass travels in the air 6 yards, ranking 107th in the country. The goal, then, is to bottle up the run game and make them pass deep, something that they just can’t do successfully. The Tigers should shoot to keep Carolina’s passing downs success rate below 25% and get them off the field quickly.
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. South Carolina’s Defense
Despite ranking a mostly bad 76th in overall defense, South Carolina is truly awful in pretty much every category conceivable: 111th against the run, 107th against the pass, 114th on standard downs, 113th on passing downs...I mean, seriously, Missouri should find success doing just about anything they want. Now, South Carolina does have a ton of success when they blitz (28th) and are really good at erasing big plays on the ground (46th) but not in the passing game (92nd). In addition, South Carolina’s two starting corners - probably the best players on the entire team - are opting out for the rest of the season, as is one of their starting safeties. So here’s the litmus test: if the Tigers are able to generate 7-8 big plays then they’re moving the ball in the way that is anticipated.
Win on Third Down
It doesn’t matter how much you move the ball if you don’t convert on third down! Even strong offenses can trip themselves up if they have a bad day on third downs so it’s a key stat to monitor when you have a matchup where it feels like an offense can absolutely dominate a defense. South Carolina opponents convert 18% of third-and-longs, 51% of third-and mediums, and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of third-and-short. Missouri should shoot to be at least 50% on third downs.
Finish your dang drives
It’s still important! South Carolina is averaging 27 points per game while Missouri is averaging 23 points per game. Missouri averages five scoring opportunities per game so if they want to hit 30 points and beat the Gamecock’s average they’ll need to average 6 points over those 5 trips. That would be their best since LSU which...yeah, they’ve done it before so it’s not impossible.
I look at these matchups and think to myself, “wow Missouri should rampage these fools”. Then I look at Missouri’s offense and remember they rank 103rd overall with a 76th ranked rushing attack and 46th best passing game...and oh yeah the offensive line has only seven dudes that can play. But, also keep in mind, Missouri’s strength of schedule is 3rd in the country while South Carolina’s schedule ranks 25th. SP+ has South Carolina as the slightest favorite, with a 27-26 predicted score. Missouri is rusty, South Carolina is bad enough that their coach was fired...this is about as toss-uppy of a game that you can possibly get. Go make a statement Tigers.