At times, a single statistic can tell a story.
Other times, it overstates one.
The number was pointed out: Perry Orth hit eight of 10 passes on third down against Georgia, but only one of the eight actually produced a first down. At first glance, this paints picture of a dump-off happy offense not taking risks.
The reality is a little more complex, at least on a review and breakdown of the game.
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The final four of the seven passes came in the late going when USC was going to go for fourth downs, so short throws made the next play easier. Two set up chances USC converted, one set up a fourth down we’ll get to later, the last set up USC’s second-to-last play with the game out of reach.
Go back to the other three, and each makes some sense in context.
The first had Terry Googer crossing over the middle in the first quarter with space to get the first down, but he bobbled a pass thrown behind him, then slipped and fell down short of the sticks.
The second came on 3rd and 11, when a free rusher up the middle meant quarterback Perry Orth had to get rid of the ball quickly for a chance at anything.
The last came when USC faced third and 11 on its own 3, and with no one open past the sticks, the Orth dumped it off to try to get his punter more room.
So this statistic is notable, but it only tells a partial story. USC is mostly going short, but that’s less on play-calling and more on a lack of protection and overall offensive pieces.
Perhaps the most vivid short-of-the-sticks moment for the Gamecocks came not on a third down, but a fourth-and-2 with USC trying to cut into a 21-7 lead with nine minutes left.
The play the Gamecocks staff came up with was absolutely designed to throw behind the line, and it appeared to be the kind of play that should work in theory, but can run aground easily.
South Carolina came out with two receivers to each side, and Georgia countered with defenders playing tight press coverage on every receiver and keeping six in the box to keep the numbers even there.
The play the Gamecocks coaches called (or what was checked to) had running back A.J. Turner swinging out to the right. The far receiver took his man deep and out of the play. The slot receiver, Hayden Hurst, was tasked with running a slant to get in the way of the linebacker coming out to cover Turner, taking him out of the play and letting Turner run into space and keep the drive going.
It draws up well, but requires Hurst’s route to carry his defender out of position. Maurice Smith did not stick with Hurst. He read the play, he speared Turner just after he caught the ball four yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Georgia defensive backs having the awareness to break off their man and mess up plays came back to bite USC several times. On Perry Orth's interception, a corner defending a short receiver popped off his man to undercut a corner route and snag the ball.
How two plays can make a difference.
In his first, and perhaps only, shot at punt returning, Hurst's performance left Will Muschamp vocally disappointed. The big tight end only had the chance to field four, and didn't really have the chance to field two.
Those included a shank that went out at the 26 and a bouncer that hit close to the sideline and just took a weird roll.
But of the pair he could get to, Hurst appeared hesitant on the first, letting it roll down to the USC 9. He again appeared unable to confidently get under the second, and a ball that landed around the 32 rolled down to USC's 3, putting the offense in a hole it couldn't get out of.
Muschamp laid the blame for his team's inability to stand up to Georgia's ground game at the feet of fundamentals. Stand up to blocks and shed them, make tackles, and the day isn't the mess it was.
The closer look shows that was just about most of it.
USC's front got pushed around with regularity. Its players got blocked. They couldn't finish tackles. There were plays when the middle of the Bulldogs line simply drove South Carolina's interior defense 5-plus yards downfield.
What they were doing wasn't complicated. They ran power plays, which Kentucky hammered USC with. They ran the same sweep play USC has in its playbook. Those accounted for more than 60 percent of Georgia's runs, and the Gamecocks couldn't consistently stand up to them.
Sacks dragged down USC's run game, but the Gamecocks only averaged 3.26 yards per carry outside them. South Carolina ran its base zone between half and three-fourths of the time, but never really got good movement on the D-line, and neither A.J. Turner nor Rico Dowdle could do much with the limited space they got.
On the goal line, Georgia inserted two defensive linemen to pave the way on power runs.
South Carolina did get creative with its run/pass game, calling a for Perry Orth to fake running an option and then pull up for a pass.
Orth had at least three passes one could classify as bad misses of open receivers.
For several series, guard Cory Helms moved over to center, replacing Alan Knott. D.J. Park, who started the season at right tackle, filled in at guard.
Nickel corner Antoine Wilder had three or four plays when he did a good job setting the edge and forcing Georgia runners toward waiting Gamecocks tacklers.
South Carolina included pre-snap motion on the majority of its plays. That was an addition and allowed the offense to glean something from how the defense shifted.
There were three plays where Georgia defenders could have probably been penalized for interfering with Gamecocks receivers.
The cut on Will Muschamp’s lip wasn’t noticed on the broadcast until fewer than 10 minutes left in the game.