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South Carolina Gamecocks Preview

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Missouri’s most winnable game left on the schedule is coming off the highs of beating Florida. Now what?

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

Are you ready for a real game? Here’s a real game for your Tigers to play.

South Carolina is in Year One under head coach Shane Beamer and, by all accounts, is way ahead of schedule. Picked to be 6th in the East and one of the worst in the SEC, South Carolina is currently 4th in the East and 9th in the conference thanks to some close game magic. They’ve juggled three quarterbacks and have yet to get a good game out of 2020’s 1st Team All-SEC running back Kevin Harris but have been able to ride a pretty decent defense and a cakey non-conference schedule to five wins, including a dominating upset of a clearly checked out flu-riddled Florida squad last week.

I’ve said before that I view South Carolina as Missouri’s true SEC rival and I still stand by that sentiment. Missouri leads the all-time series 6-5 after winning the last two matchups but these teams tend to play super weird, super close games every time they get together.

And, oh, by the way, Missouri is only favored by 3 at home with a 51% win expectancy. Like I said: close!

Here’s what South Carolina has done so far:

2021 South Carolina Schedule

Missouri and South Carolina have played a lot of the same teams this year! Yes, part of that is the fact that they play in the same division but they both also played Texas A&M. Hold that thought!

And here’s the update on how Mizzou has done this season:

2021 Missouri Schedule

Another 0% win expectancy against Georgia! Third one of the year! Just put it on the tab.

But I want to get back to the similar opponents observation I noted above. On Sunday’s podcast BK mentioned that Missouri and South Carolina were, essentially, the same team. Let’s explore that claim, shall we?

Currently, Missouri is ranked 80th in SP+ with the 56th best offense and 100th best defense.

South Carolina is ranked 75th in SP+ with the 88th best offense and 50th best defense.

How have the done against similar opponents? Glad you asked!

Missouri and South Carolina’s Shared Opponents

That’s uncanny. Both essentially had no chance in hell against Gerogia, Tennessee, and Texas A&M and they both inexplicably churned out a performance that gave them a 7% win expectancy against Kentucky. And, of course, both beat Vanderbilt with an 86%/89% win expectancy.

Yup, it’s confirmed. Mizzou and South Carolina are the same team. They both will even be playing a backup quarterback on Saturday (but maybe Bazleak is back? who knows? question mark?)! So how can Missouri wins the Man in the Mirror Match? Let’s take a look...

When Missouri Has the Ball

Missouri’s Offense vs. South Carolina’s Defense

South Carolina recruits in the middle pack of the SEC schools and all their talent is, currently, on the defensive side of the ball. They’re all home grown, too - as in, they’ve been with the Gamecocks for their entire career and most of them are from South Carolina - and a good chunk are graduate students taking advantage of the extra COVID year. They only rank 50th in overall defensive SP+ but they’re experienced and like to bring a ton of pressure from their 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid defense.

“It’s Tyler Badie Time” - Tyler Badie

NCAA Football: North Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks love to blitz, bringing Kingsley Enagbare crashing down from a variety of positions and successfully creating pressure 29% of the time. But creative blitzes can also lead to over pursuit and open lanes, and that’s one of the reasons why South Carolina ranks 82nd against the run. The don’t allow a ton of big plays on the ground (currently rank 20th in defending explosive rushing plays) but have been consistently pushed around by opposing offensive lines all year: 100th in opportunity rate, 101st in power success rate, and 120th at stuffing the run. Also, they have a nasty habit of giving up big yards on the ground in passing down situations. Tyler Badie got a “rest week” against Georgia when he only had 14 touches for the game so he should be ready to shred this week. I’d imagine he gets 25 touches and needs at least a 60% success rate against a defense that has yet to show an ability to shut down opposing running backs.

Big Plays in the Passing Game

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri ranks 118th in the nation in generating big plays through the air. South Carolina ranks 97th in allowing big plays through the air. What happens when the movable object meets the stoppable force? The Gamecock secondary is good, not great (Top 50) against the pass but, again, thanks to aggressive blitz packages, has a tendency to either give up big passing plays or sack the quarterback. While my guess is that an injured Bazelak will be the starting quarterback, whoever it is needs to be 100% certain on identifying pressures and knowing the hot reads; if they can beat the blitz schemes they’re almost guarantee to burn the defense for big gains. Add in the fact that offenses have the most success when throwing the ball 10+ yards on this defense and its clear: Missouri needs to connect on 6-7 big passing plays to keep the defense on their heels.

Finish your dang drives

NCAA Football: North Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Even though I was happy with Missouri’s defensive scheme and execution against Georgia, I am by no means assuming they’re anything better than the 100th ranking that they’ve deserved so far this season. So the Tiger offense needs to put up some points and give the defense plenty of room for error. South Carolina has one of the worst offenses in the country in points per opportunity (126th) and the best defenses in the country in points per opportunity (2nd). Expect Thiccer to be called in to bomb some long ones but Missouri needs to generate at least 7 scoring opportunities and aim for at least 4.5 points per opportunity.

When South Carolina Has the Ball

Missouri’s Defense vs. South Carolina’s Offense

Cocky has had one of the more interesting quarterback seasons of all time. Youngster Luke Doty - who got his start against Missouri last year and damn near beat them - was tabbed as the starter for the 2021 season before sustaining a foot injury in fall camp. At that point the staff turned to its new offensive analyst, Zeb Noland - former Iowa State and North Dakota State quarterback - who had one year of eligibility left and had him take over the QB1 responsibilities, Noland oversaw victories over Eastern Illinois and East Carolina before ceding the starting position back to Luke Doty during the Week 3 loss to Georgia. Doty then played the next four games (two wins, two losses) before re-injuring his foot in the slugfest victory over Vanderbilt and being lost for the season. Noland lead the game-winning drive against the Commodores and then tore his meniscus against Texas A&M. That left Penn transfer Jason Brown to get the start - and the win! - against Florida last week. And while Shane Beamer insists that Noland is apparently ready to contribute after having surgery on his knee, it will probably be Brown who sees the field against Missouri.

Do That Good Run Defense Thing You Did Against Georgia

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned previously, Kevin Harris was one of the best running backs in the nation last year but had back surgery and has only managed 375 yards on 86 carries. Marshawn Lloyd has added 217 yards on 56 carries but the real emerging threat here is former Florida State Seminole ZaQuandre White who’s currently averaging 7.3 yards per carry on his 55 carries. Defensively, Steve Wilks has tinkered with putting defensive ends on the inside and tackles on the outside to generate pressure up the middle; interior pressure is sometimes viewed as superior to outside pressure because the quarterback can’t step up and running backs have to bounce wide, seemingly into the arms of a end or linebacker scraping over the side. Against Georgia, Wilks found his lineup: big end/tackle Akial Byers on the outside, disruptive tackles Darius Robinson and Mekhi Wingo on the inside, and sleepy pass rusher Trajan Jeffcoat on the other end. This creates two block-shedding threats up the middle along with solid pressure on the outside. And since Chad Bailey has seemingly flipped his switch from “suck” to “good”, hopefully he’ll have plenty of opportunities to make the tackle. I know I’m setting expectations awfully high for the 121st rushing defense but South Carolina is the 117th rushing offense and I think last week’s scheme is good to go. Missouri needs to keep the Gamecock ground game at a 35% success rate or worse.

No Fly Zone

NCAA Football: Missouri at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina has a transfer at quarterback, running back, receiver, and tight end because Will Muschamp had a hard time recruiting well on the offensive side of the ball. The Gamecock offense sucks but their one “strength” is an 86th-ranked passing game, one that particularly relies on explosive gains through the air. Needless to say, if Missouri is stacking the box and committing to shutting down the run, the corners and safeties can not afford to get burned. Dakereon Joyner and Josh Vann are great 4-star receivers so Akayleb Evans and Allie Green will have to earn their scholarships on Saturday. Missouri needs to keep the passing success rate under 40% and defense at least five passes to make sure the Gamecocks don’t see too much movement.

Conclusion

Be glad this game is played in Columbia West because it’s about the only advantage Missouri has in this game. South Carolina has won five games but they’ve been close and lucky to win them. That doesn’t mean they’ll be push overs, quite the opposite in fact: this team is used to playing close and winning late and won’t care how far down they get until the late in the game. Plus, they’re riding the high of beating Florida last week in convincing fashion.

I do think that if Wilks commits to the last week’s scheme this defense can see some wins. And, personally, I hope that Brady Cook gets the start at quarterback just so Missouri has a running threat from that position that isn’t the obvious “oh hey we put in the guy who can’t pass well for this series”. Like most Missouri victories of the Drinkwitz era, expect this one to come down to the wire, something ridiculous like 30-28. You can’t win six until you win five and this is the best chance left on the schedule to get it.