Better Know An Opponent: South Carolina

SEE CLOWNEY ISN'T MAKING A TACKLE IN THIS PICTURE HE SUCKS FIRE CLOWNEY - Streeter Lecka

After looking a little lackluster, South Carolina flat dominated Arkansas last week. What's that mean for Tennessee?

All season long, we’ve been saying that South Carolina is the attainable upset. Is that still the case? Tennessee - when we last left them (i.e., before Bristol and before the weird band thing, the likes of which I don't understand nor comprehend nor care too much about, the last of which is a product of not living close to the city; I do, however, approve of someone setting Jimmy Cheek off, at least in theory, and man this parenthetical just keeps going and going and going and going) - lost a heartbreaker to Georgia and have been looking systematically stronger.

If there's going to be a time, we're pretty close to it. That being said, it's not like South Carolina's an easy out.

  • Yes, there’s ostensibly a QB rotation involving Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson; in practice this is Connor Shaw’s team. Thompson will get some snaps - he has in every game save Georgia - but Shaw is the main quarterbacking weapon.
  • This is actually a thing, especially considering he’s averaging 9.2 yards per attempt and a 10/0 TD/INT ratio, which is patently insane. (Fun fact: Tennessee’s faced both starting QBs in 1-A who have yet to throw a pick; Marcus Mariota is the other one.) With that being said, the Gamecock passing game is ...well, lo-fi is the wrong phrase here given 9.2 yards per attempt, but they don’t pass a ton. Shaw will put it in the air 20-30 times a game, but he’ll also tuck and run about 12 times a game. For a Tennessee defense that has been hurt by mobile QBs in the past (read: any of them, basically), this isn’t good.
  • What also isn’t good for Tennessee: Mike Davis, who’s getting close to feature back carries (18.5 per game) and 6.7 yards per carry. That’s a nasty combination; at this point, Davis can probably run backwards and top 1,000 yards on the year.
  • South Carolina - when they put the ball in the air, at least - doesn’t really have preferred targets. Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones, Mike Davis, and Shaq Roland all average over 2 catches a game. Ellington, Byrd, and Roland are all dangerous - you may remember Roland from his season-opening TD against North Carolina - while Nick Jones is the possession receiver type and, well, Mike Davis. TE isn’t a huge part of the offense, so there’s that at least.
  • A strange aside: South Carolina has played at either a 60-play or 80-play pace in every game this season. I don’t know what this means beyond anecdotally being okay at whatever pace since it doesn’t seem to depend on the opponent. I can, however, tell you that they flat dominated Arkansas (89 plays to 37), so good luck reading into that.
  • Somewhat related: turns out when you run nearly 90 plays to your opponents’ 37, you can do things like dominate time of possession by 27 minutes. That Arkansas game might be a wee bit out of an outlier.
  • Of course, this is all a preamble to the Tiny Richardson-Jadeveon Clowney matchup (maybe you’ve heard of these guys). Clowney has underwhelmed if you consider that he’s not beating double-teams and recording every single tackle for South Carolina, which - go figure - is tough for a lineman.
  • Clowney’s also fighting through pro aspirations a bone spur, which may limit his effectiveness. So may Tiny Richardson, who has probably has this game circled for months.
  • There is nobody else on South Carolina’s defense. (Yeah, this isn’t true at all.)
  • Absent Clowney, the Gamecocks don’t get behind the line too much - Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, and Jimmy Legree are the key guys - but 6.5 TFL per game is right about the national average. Tennessee, by comparison, has allowed 3.5 TFL a game. Sutton and Quarles have benefitted from Clowney’s presence causing offensive line issues, while Legree needs to be accounted for coming from corner blitzes.
  • The secondary isn’t great at outright pass defending at the point of reception - 5 INT and 6 PBU among the team is both a) lackluster and b) lucky - but when they do pick one off, they’ll return it.
  • On total yards-per-play, South Carolina’s held two opponents below 5 yards a play - North Carolina and Vanderbilt. (While it seems weird to not have Arkansas on this list, there was some serious fumblitis going on.)
  • The kicking game - namely, Landon Artl - is a decent enough weapon, getting touchbacks on just under 40% of his kicks. Tyler Hull (38 yards per punt) is decent, but nothing to write home about. The most notable thing about the kick / punt return game: there’s a guy named Pharaoh Cooper. That’s it, really.
  • Also critical: the team’s pretty strong converting third downs (53%), 8th nationally and just about average in preventing third down conversions by opponents (38%, 61st). This is probably due in part to Shaw’s presence as a runner.
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