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South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 20: Sometimes, the gift gets taken back

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Oh yeah, that was frustrating, but if you want reasons to be encouraged they were there.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at South Carolina David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors

Five Factors Vanderbilt South Carolina
Five Factors Vanderbilt South Carolina
Plays 59 65
Total Yards 313 443
Yards Per Play 5.3 6.8
Rushing Attempts 36 30
Rushing Yards 120 130
Rushing YPP 3.3 4.3
Passing Attempts 23 35
Passing Yards 193 313
Passing YPP 8.4 8.9
Rushing Success Rate 36.10% 33.30%
Passing Success Rate 30.40% 51.40%
Success Rate 33.90% 43.10%
Avg. Field Position 27.5 28.8
PP40 3.33 3.5
Turnovers 2 4

Two things can simultaneously be true: one, Vanderbilt should not have lost that game; and two, a win would have been a gift.

Because, yeah, the Five Factors, while not nearly as ugly as some of the other games this season, shows that South Carolina had a pretty significant advantage both in yards per play and success rate — but unlike some other games, Vanderbilt’s numbers were not disastrous, and actually the yards per play number (5.3) was just fine. Perhaps it was the lower level of competition or perhaps it was quarterback Mike Wright, in for the injured Ken Seals, but for what seems like the first time all season Vanderbilt was able to find some explosive plays, particularly in the passing game. Vanderbilt had four pass plays of 20 yards or more in this game.

The problem? Those four big plays only resulted in 10 points. Yeah, Will Sheppard scored from 52 yards (after a South Carolina player missed a tackle) and an early 44-yard pass to Cam Johnson set up a Joseph Bulovas field goal, but a 50-yard pass to Sheppard in the first quarter only led to a turnover on downs (on 4th and goal at the South Carolina 4) and a 21-yard pass to Patrick Smith in the second quarter was immediately followed by an interception.

See, if you’re looking for encouragement here, it’s that Vanderbilt didn’t play anything close to a perfect game and still nearly took down an SEC team on the road. The other story of the game was that South Carolina gave the ball away four times, and Vanderbilt turned two of those into points, converting a second-quarter fumble into a touchdown three plays later, and getting a field goal off Luke Doty’s second interception of the day late in the fourth quarter.

I try not to get too much into discussions of strategy in the Statistical because that’s not really the point of the column, but since I feel like it has to be addressed: the problem with dropping eight into coverage on South Carolina’s final drive was that Vanderbilt allowed South Carolina to go 75 yards over eight plays (three of them incomplete passes) and 59 seconds, which is exactly what the prevent is not supposed to do. You go prevent and the other team dinks and dunks its way down the field for a score, and that’s a bad coaching decision. You go prevent and give up pass plays of 29 and 21 yards and you allow the receivers to get out of bounds on both of those plays, that’s an execution error. If there’s a late-game coaching decision that deserves ire, it’s the decision to kick a field goal up by three points, on 4th and 5 at the South Carolina 9, because kicking a field goal there doesn’t offer any real advantage and may actually hurt, since it forced Shane Beamer to play for the win instead of playing for a field goal and overtime, and scoring a touchdown there would have effectively ended the game.

Still, even in a loss the identity of Clark Lea’s Vanderbilt is coming into focus. The concept is to be a team that limits mistakes and doesn’t beat itself, but is more than happy to let you beat yourself. That worked against Colorado State and UConn and it nearly worked as South Carolina — but when you dare the other team to go 75 yards with 96 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, well, sometimes the other team does exactly that.

Passing

Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Mike Wright 11 21 52.40% 206 1 1 2 13 193 30.40% 8.4

For now, I’m not going to comment on the budding quarterback controversy. This was an okay performance by Wright, with passing numbers that got inflated a bit by, well, the receivers doing some work after the catch and South Carolina blowing some tackles. I would want to see what Mike Wright does when he’s not facing a defense that spent a week preparing to face Ken Seals before I make any such pronouncements.

Rushing

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rocko Griffin 16 58 3.6 1 37.50%
Mike Wright 12 46 3.8 0 41.70%
Patrick Smith 5 9 1.8 0 0.00%

This was pretty grim until the final drive, when Griffin had six carries for 31 yards. You can do the math on what the numbers looked like prior to that. Mike Wright did fine but didn’t really have any explosive plays, which is what you are looking for.

Receiving

Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Will Sheppard 8 3 120 1 37.50% 15 40 37.50%
Chris Pierce 4 2 23 0 50.00% 5.8 11.5 25.00%
Cam Johnson 2 2 46 0 100.00% 23 23 50.00%
Patrick Smith 2 2 18 0 100.00% 9 9 50.00%
Devin Boddie 2 2 -1 0 100.00% -0.5 -0.5 50.00%
Rocko Griffin 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 #DIV/0! 0.00%
Ben Bresnahan 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 #DIV/0! 0.00%

Yeah, I still have no idea what’s going on with Cam Johnson, who had a big pass play on Vanderbilt’s first drive and caught a two-yard pass on Vanderbilt’s last drive and wasn’t targeted at all in between. I really have no idea what’s going on with Ben Bresnahan, who’s been a nonfactor in the offense even after returning from injury.

Defense

  • This wasn’t a terrible day for the defense, which gave up some big plays but also forced four takeaways. It also had six tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.
  • Two of the takeaways were by Dashaun Jerkins, who had an interception and also recovered a fumble. Ethan Barr had an interception and a quarterback hurry, Allan George had a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, De’Rickey Wright had two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Terion “Tank” Sugick forced the other fumble.
  • At the very least, if the defense is going to get burned by big plays, they can also make a few big plays themselves.

Notes

  • True freshmen who played: Tyson Russell, Patrick Smith, James Ziglor, CJ Taylor, Errington Truesdell, Michael Mincey, Terion Sugick. I’ve lost count of how many games some of these guys have played in. I know Truesdell’s redshirt has already been burned and I think Smith and Ziglor are now there as well, but I’m too lazy to look it up.
  • The participation report indicates that Jeremy Moussa played and I think that would be his first action at Vanderbilt.
  • It would be nice to see this team not start slow for once.

What’s Next

Mississippi State comes to town next Saturday. Game time is 3 PM CT and the game will be televised on the SEC Network. This and Missouri a week from Saturday are probably Vanderbilt’s two chances to get an SEC win, and they’re 23-point underdogs against Mississippi State.