Game preview: How will USC handle unique Wofford challenge?
The number doesn’t look good, that’s for sure.
At the moment, South Carolina’s football team sits at 348.6 yards per game for 2017, which ranks 106th nationally. It’s only that high because of a strong day against Florida. Before that was somewhere past 112th.
This number has caused a great deal of consternation for some in Gamecock nation. Just look at it, outside the top 100 in a number called “total offense.”
But take a closer look, and that number isn’t the whole picture, especially when it comes to inciting rending of garments and calls for firings.
If we ask, how does South Carolina’s offense look every play, things change a bit. USC jumps from 106th to 73rd, still not good, but 33 spots better. Factor out the fact most schools have fattened their stats on an FCS opponent (which USC has yet to play), and USC is 65th, right in the middle.
So USC has less of an offense problem, in that each play against FBS teams is more average than abysmal, but instead has a plays/possession problem.
So why’s that?
It’s a collection of factors, starting with USC’s own slower pace. The Gamecocks are, at this point, simply not a quick-snap team. They don’t huddle, but they tend to get to the line and then check with the sideline.
There probably are a few reasons for this. First, the depth in the back seven is so poor, putting the defense in position to play 90 snaps is not ideal. Second, teams that run up to the line and snap it are often going with base run plays, option plays with mobile QBs or RPOs, and USC hasn’t been great at the first two (it’s not ideal to rush into second and 9).
This factors into lowering the number of plays and drives in the average USC game.
Some guessed the Gamecocks’ inability to keep possession was another element, but that’s not really true.
USC ranks 60th nationally in how often drives go three and out, and USC’s third-down offense is 75th in the country, again not great but not in the 100s.
The answer there is on the other side of the ball.
South Carolina’s opponents tend to have long drives, where teams have to work, but ultimately chew up yardage and time. Gamecocks opponents convert 42.3 percent of their third downs, 91st in the country, and that was higher than 45 before facing Florida’s offense.
So South Carolina’s opponents tend to have long, drawn-out drives, and USC isn’t exactly hurrying to the line to snap it, and you have a team whose overall offensive totals will be depressed and defensive totals will be inflated.
According to school stats, USC averages fewer than 11 possessions per game (discounting killing the clock at the end of halves), a pretty slow place in an up-tempo era. USC ranks 76th in points per drive against FBS teams, again not great, but not in that 100s range.
So the final question is, how much does this matter?
On the field, it matters less than one thinks. USC playing slower games puts it in slightly better position to pull upsets and slightly worse position to get upset. Will Muschamp has said many times raw yards per game is not a concern, and while a mildly below-average offense probably is (especially the inability to dominate possession), it’s not a disaster by any stretch, especially considering losing a top running back, top offensive weapon and a stretch of offensive line instability.
It gets a little more complex on the recruiting trail. Prospects like to see high-pace, high-flying offenses with gaudy stats. Those offenses produce more carries and catches, which can be sold to prospective skill players as opportunities to play.
The best takeaway comes down to this, is South Carolina’s offense good-to-great? Nope. It is a group outside the top 100? Not by a longshot.
Yards per game
Yards per play
Yards per play vs. FBS
Plays per game
Points per game
Points per drive
Offensive third-down rate
Defensive third-down rate
Percent of drives that go three and out