NOTE: Some issues with video availability meant Saturday’s game couldn’t be fully charted. That said, some analysis can still be done on the stats/big plays available.
South Carolina ran 13 plays in Vanderbilt’s red zone Saturday. One went longer than eight yards. Two were longer than four. Eight didn’t move the ball forward at all.
This isn’t exactly a new thing. Finishing drives has been a problem for the Gamecocks all year. It cost them the Kentucky game, and they rank 119th nationally in terms of average points per trip inside the 40-yard line.
The contrast was stark when one looked closer at how the Gamecocks performed on each side of the field against Vanderbilt. Logic says an offense should produce somewhat better on its own side than the opponent’s, both because the defense has more ground to cover and because there’s a longer distance to the goal line (no matter how perfectly blocked, a run from the 10 can only go 10 yards).
On the Commodore side of the 50, South Carolina averaged 3.6 yards per play. On the other side, a robust 9.4, which only fell to 7.4 if one removed the outlier of Pharoh Cooper’s 78-yard catch-and-run.
Some of that seemed to link to inefficiency in the running game, as only a third of South Carolina’s runs in Vandy territory went more than four yards.
On second look, it’s unclear how much pressure played a role in Perry Orth’s interception, which rang in a turnover-heavy final quarter. Somehow, a relatively light rush (three men) against heavy protection (eight blockers) ended with David Williams not being able to make a block and Orth getting hit.
But it looked as if the ball was on its way already. The former walk-on quarterback seemed locked onto a pump-and-go to Cooper, who was bumped off his route. Orth’s pass sailed long, a problem for him in spots this season, and a safety in deep zone coverage came over to snatch the errant throw.
Outside of that, Orth showed more of an aggressive streak, trying to put the ball in tight windows. A couple times he fit passes just over underneath linebackers — not something easy by any stretch.
On the other side, two of Vanderbilt’s three interceptions came by standard means and one seemed to have a bit of a twist. Skai Moore just took a deep drop, carrying the tight end up the seam (common in Cover-2) and caught a ball thrown behind the receiver. Chris Lammons’ interception came in pure zone off a bad throw on a wheel route, in the off coverage fans regularly bemoan (though the Gamecocks did blitz the other cornerback on the play).
The last interception, that was a bit trickier. South Carolina safety Jordan Diggs lined up in the box and manned up with Vanderbilt receiver Darrius Sims. From the TV angle, it appeared the team left one deep safety and the rest of the defensive backs played man. That left linebackers Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams in the middle, taking shorter drops than usual. Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary tried throw over them on a crossing route, and Allen-Williams got the tip and eventually the ball.
The change at the top, from pass-happy Steve Spurrier to an offensive line coach in Shawn Elliott, might have given some an impression something more could come from the running game. True, there was no Wildcat and almost no jet sweeps to speak of, but there was one element not seen of late.
After spending the past few weeks relying on zone runs and sweeps, the Gamecocks ran a smattering of power plays (downhill running with a pulling guard) with the newly returned Brandon Wilds at tailback. He said that kind of downhill running was what he prefers, and USC showed more pistol than it had in recent weeks.
Wilds said during the week the team ran a drill where the ball started at the one-yard line, and the offense had to run it in on iso, as straight-ahead power football as one can find.
▪ Although Orth isn’t exactly fleet of foot, the Gamecocks have been putting him on the edge in some spots. He ran three or four speed options and the unblocked defensive end was worried enough to force him to pitch the ball. After the game, Orth said he ran that play throughout high school.
▪ At least two of South Carolina’s three sacks came on plays when a five-man rush was augmented with a different look. One was the team’s standard zone blitz, where a slot corner and linebacker rush and a defensive end drops into coverage (neither extra rusher made the play as defensive end Darius English just got around the outside of the offensive tackle). Late in the game, Moore and Allen-Williams lined up in the A-gaps as the defensive line spread out wide. Allen-Williams pulled back, while Moore rushed. Moore shot between the center and guard, fought off a back in pass protection and reached out to slap the ball out of McCrary’s hands.
▪ There was a shift in first-down play-calling with Elliott and offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus in charge. In Steve Spurrier’s last game, South Carolina threw 13 times and ran six times on first downs. Saturday, the numbers were 23 runs and eight passes.