As Missouri’s head coach, Eli Drinkwitz is 2-10 in road games, 2-8 in conference road games, and 0-4 in conference road games against ranked opponents. Surprisingly, South Carolina is a ranked, conference road game. Let’s check the chart here and...yup, Drinkwitz has no chance at winning this game in Columbia East. Cool.
Here’s the preview I wrote about South Carolina over the summer. In it, I pointed out that South Carolina’s unexpectedly successful season hinged on a bit of smoke and mirrors, as they went 5-1 against teams ranked 55th or worse and 2-4 against teams ranked 54th or better. Let’s take a look at this year’s schedule so far:
- South Carolina vs. Opponents ranked 55th or worse: 2-0
- South Carolina vs. Opponents ranked 54th or better: 2-2
Now, for context, the two wins in the 54th-or-better-department is a one-score win at Kentucky without Will Levis and last week’s bushwhacking of Texas A&M, which is a Missouri clone with 5-star talent. The Gamecocks batted around Kentucky’s backup quarterback, forced two turnovers, and benefited from multiple missed field goals from the Wildcats. Against Texas A&M, Cocky was up 17-0 within 12 minutes of the game; starting with returning the opening kick for a touchdown, then intercepting A&M on the fourth play of the game leading to another touchdown, and then cruised for the rest of the game as A&M continued to play conservative, predictable offense in the face of a deficit. In both games Spencer Rattler threw for less than 180 yards while the offense ran for less than 180 yards and simply rode good special teams play to close wins. Good defense plus elite special teams play is how you win games with a boring (or bad) offense. Take notes, Eli.
So South Carolina is good but they’re not intimidatingly good, especially when you see they only had a 40% win expectancy against A&M. Simply put, they do all the little things right and are rewarded at the end (like Mizzou in 2020). So let’s figure out how Missouri can make them look bad.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Despite fielding a damn All-Carolina High School All-Star team on defense, the Gamecocks are fairly bad at stopping the easy 3-5 yard efficiency plays that an offense runs. The flip side of that issue? They don’t give up any big plays, currently ranking 2nd in explosive plays defense (yes, second in the nation!). They are an extreme bend-don’t-outfit that makes offenses string together 12-13 plays with zero mistakes and hope that college offenses to the college offense thing...and screw it up. Regardless, I guarantee you this game goes the same way it always goes for Mizzou’s offense; run on 1st and 2nd down, throw it on 3rd, and get blown up at the line about 20% of the time. But, just for fun, let’s outline the specific ways this team could beat South Carolina. You know...if we had an offensive coordinator who could adapt the way he calls his offense and stuff.
Ground and Pound
Wait. What? I’m endorsing the Missouri Tigers to do the one thing that Eli Drinkwitz allows them to do that they’re not very good at? Reader, indeed, I am! Vanderbilt’s defense coming into last week was one of the very worst in the country, but their lone “strength” was their 52nd best rushing defense. South Carolina: 127th. The Gamecocks are allowing a 51.2% success rate to opponents when they run the ball and wooooooweeeee that must be a huge relief to Drinkwitz’s game planning efforts. Despite the fact that Missouri is averaging a 38% success rate on the ground so far this year, I’d expect at least 45% success rate running the ball at the end of this game.
Hang on to the dang ball
These goals are so reductive, and yet, this Gamecock defense operates in a fashion the Drinkwitz is going to have to go to bunker mode and play the exact type of scared football he loves to play because South Carolina’s defense is really good against the pass and their offense is so scattershot. The Gamecocks have some of the worst turnover luck in the country with an expected turnover margin of -4.6 (130th) and an actual turnover margin of -5 (113th). A&M game aside, they have a tendency of gacking away opportunities and keeping their opponents in the game. Sound like anyone you know? Missouri needs to play it safe and tight and do whatever it takes to not give easy field position to an inconsistent Spencer Rattler. Having a turnover margin of at least +1 will give me good vibes.
Finish your dang drives
Here we are again. Another SEC opponent that is one of the worst in points per scoring opportunity. Last week was Vanderbilt at 129th; this week it’s South Carolina at 116th. In the name of all that is holy please generate 6 scoring opportunities with at least 4 points per opportunity. Please.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
The Gamecocks have played three teams with defenses ranked in the Top 10 and have scored 7, 24, and 30 points. They have played three teams with defenses ranked 77th or worse (plus an FCS defense) and scored 35, 30, 56, and 50 points. Missouri’s defense is currently 27th and should be more in line with the tests of the past two weeks rather than the first two.
Limit Passing Downs Magic
South Carolina is a bizarre offense to study. Spencer Rattler is not a very consistent quarterback and, for the most part, they keep him out of situations where he has to do something, preferring to run the ball with 5-star MarShawn Lloyd and the 35th best rushing attack. The passing game is dreadful and ranks 99th in the country and their standard downs success rates are also awful, ranking 93rd. However, in passing down situations, the Gamecocks come alive with the 44th best success rate thanks to one of the best passing downs explosive plays execution in the country (currently 5th). Missouri is prone to giving up big plays throughout the game so the hope is that they can keep that down and limit South Carolina to a 30% or worse success rate in passing downs.
Against Vanderbilt Missouri’s defense finished with a 44% success rate, one of the highest I’ve seen in the past five years. They’ll need some good explosions in the backfield to negate the inevitable bad explosions that will occur throughout this game. A 35% havoc rate should be sufficient.
South Carolina isn’t some unbeatable super team but they’re 5-2 on the season. Missouri has one good unit (defense) and two mostly bad units (offense and special teams) and yet is a few plays away from 6-1...and 2-5. Here’s my prediction: Missouri plays like dog crap the entire game but somehow finds itself within one score late. Not a stretch, right? We’ll see whether fortune favors Missouri this week or the continuous road woes befell another Eli Drinkwitz close game blunder. Can’t wait!