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If you’re going to run a ball-control offense, you have to be efficient.

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Vanderbilt’s offense produced almost no big plays. That’s not going to work when you can’t produce small plays, either.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors

South Carolina Vanderbilt
Explosiveness (PPP) 0.21 0.15
Efficiency (Success Rate) 27.4% 35.4%
Drive Finishing (PP40) 3.25 3.33
Field Position (Avg. Starting) 33.2 25.2
Turnovers 2 0

(Quick explainer: PPP is points per play. “Success,” in efficiency terms, is defined as gaining 50% of the needed yardage on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down. PP40 is points per trip inside the opposing 40-yard line, and is a measure of finishing drives.)

Here’s a longer explanation of the Five Factors from SBN’s Bill C. if you’re really interested. Bill uses IsoPPP to calculate explosiveness, which I don’t have the time or energy to calculate, but as a general rule the Five Factors correlate pretty strongly with winning football games. Teams that win the explosiveness battle win 86 percent of the time; teams that win the efficiency battle win 83 percent of the time; teams that win the drive-finishing battle win 75 percent of the time; teams that win the field position battle win 72 percent of the time; and teams that win the turnover battle win 73 percent of the time.

So Vanderbilt won on efficiency, drive finishing (narrowly, and a bit surprisingly), and won the turnover battle. That’s three of the five factors. On the other hand, Vanderbilt lost the explosiveness battle — not because South Carolina was all that explosive, but because Vanderbilt only had two plays that went for 16 yards. And Vanderbilt lost the field position battle as well, though that had nothing to do with special teams and everything to do with an offense that at one point went three-and-out on five consecutive possessions (sandwiched around a three-play, 19-yard drive that ended at halftime.)

In fact, here’s a different look at Vanderbilt’s offensive performance. Take away the single touchdown drive, and Vanderbilt’s performance looks thusly:

  • Explosiveness: 0.05 PPP (3 points, 52 plays)
  • Success rate: 26.9% (14 successful plays in 52 plays)
  • Points per trip inside 40: 1.5 (3 points on 2 trips)
  • Average starting field position: 24.6
  • Turnover margin: Still +2

That’s honestly hideous. It’s hard to point to any specific differences between the lone touchdown drive and the rest of the game, but the most obvious difference was that while Kyle Shurmur only attempted four passes in the 13-play drive, two of those were completed, including a 16-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 at the Vanderbilt 40. To be sure, when Vanderbilt established the passing game (and particularly the downfield passing game) as a threat, South Carolina could do even less to stop the run. On that drive, Ralph Webb had 5 carries for 31 yards; Khari Blasingame had 3 carries for 5 yards.

What went wrong after that? Well, Wade Freebeck came in for a couple of three-and-outs, but even when Shurmur came back in, the offense began to resemble the offense from the last few games of 2015 rather than what it showed in the first couple of possessions of 2016. The coaching staff either decided they didn’t have any confidence in Shurmur or Shurmur didn’t do anything to inspire confidence. Yeah, Vanderbilt wasn’t shooting itself in the foot with turnovers, but then they weren’t moving the ball much at all.

In effect, Vanderbilt got a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter and then decided to run out the clock. And that strategy almost worked, mostly because South Carolina’s offense was equally inept for much of the game, but at the end of the game it was a contest over whose field goal kicker was better. And Elliott Fry is better than Tommy Openshaw.

At the end of the day, we can only grade coaches on process and not outcomes; but this was poor process in so many ways. Even if a 10-point lead very nearly held up for 45 minutes of game action... you don’t even try to do that. You just don’t.

Other observations from the box score:

  • Khari Blasingame isn’t bad, but if we’re going to have a two-back rotation, it would be far more helpful to have the second back be a home run threat rather than just being (essentially) a second Ralph Webb — good at getting a few yards when needed, but not really a threat to break off a run of 20 yards or more.
  • Shurmur wasn’t great, but he didn’t seem to be getting much help from the receiving corps. Vanderbilt’s leader in receptions and receiving yards through one game? Ralph Webb. That’s... problematic.
  • Sam Loy will continue the long Vanderbilt tradition of a punter being the team’s best offensive weapon.
  • But other than Loy, the special teams... meh. The return game wasn’t much of a threat at all, and Openshaw’s issues on field goals continue. Openshaw also had a kickoff go out of bounds, though the other two were touchbacks.
  • Zach Cunningham: 12 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. Oren Burks: six tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. The defense is going to be fine.
  • Actually, Vanderbilt had eight pass breakups and that resulted in zero interceptions. That’s a bit unlucky.
  • We play Middle next Saturday. I hope the box score isn’t this negative.