Scouting Report: South Carolina Gamecocks

On3 imageby:Adam Luckett12/05/20


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Believe it or not, the final game of the regular season has arrived and after Saturday night at Kroger Field this dreaded all-SEC slate will be finished. UK is reeling following consecutive blowout losses to Alabama and Florida on the road, but now they’ll be at home on senior day to take on the second worst team in the SEC.

South Carolina is just a few weeks removed from firing Will Muschamp and taking on his colossal buyout to enter the coaching search market. First year offensive coordinator and former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo has taken over, but the Gamecocks are 0-2 under his watch with a close loss to Missouri and a blowout defeat to Georgia both occurring in Columbia. Now they’ll be hitting the road to end this dreaded season.

It is very important for the Kentucky football program to find some momentum to end the season on and they’ll be looking to get things rolling towards national signing day by getting a win over South Carolina on Saturday for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Nuts and Bolts

To no one’s surprise, the Will Muschamp hire did not work out in South Carolina. The man who was just one year off a failing tenure at division power Florida and followed it up with a very ho hum season in 2015 as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in the worst season of the Gus Malzahn era. It still didn’t keep athletic director Ray Tanner away.  After early candidates Kirby Smart and Tom Herman landed at Georgia and Texas respectively, the search came down to Muschamp and Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. Tanner sided with the SEC experience.

After a promising start that ended with an upset win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl following year two, the Gamecocks went 13-19 in his final 32 games with a 9-14 mark in SEC play. Muschamp never beat cross-divisional opponent Texas A&M and was 1-3 against Kentucky, but somehow found a way to beat Georgia in Sanford Stadium. He went through three offensive coordinators in five seasons and could never find the right mix on that side of the ball. The result is another coaching search in Columbia as a program with very high expectations is meeting their historical norms since the crazy successful run by Steve Spurrier that included three consecutive 11-win seasons.

This will be the 32nd meeting between the two programs and South Carolina currently owns a 18-12-1 series lead. The Gamecocks owned an entire decade winning every meeting from 2000-09, but the previous decade was won by Kentucky 6-4. UK has won four of the last five meetings in Lexington.

Out in the desert, Kentucky is an 11.5 point favorite with a total of 47.5. That’s a projected final score of 29.5-18. Both teams are 3-5-1 against the spread this season while UK has leaned more towards the under. The under is 6-3 in UK games while the over is 6-3 in South Carolina games. Mark Stoops is 1-8 ATS in his last nine games as an SEC home favorite.

Offensive Breakdown

South Carolina entered the year needing a new coordinator and Will Muschamp made a splashy hire. Mike Bobo was a former quarterback at Georgia and was a long time staff member under Mark Richt which included eight seasons as the offensive coordinator. He eventually moved on to Colorado State to run the program and was fired after five seasons. He then made his way back to the SEC making $1.2 million per season, but this year has not been great.

The Gamecocks have started two quarterbacks and have really struggled to get the pass game going. You could make the case that Carolina has the worst passing attack outside of Kentucky in the SEC and are really reliant on the ground game. When the program lost top-50 recruit MarShawn Lloyd to injury things looked bleak, but sophomore Kevin Harris (No. 20) has emerged.

The former mid three-star recruit from South Georgia is the heartbeat of this offense. He will probably get beat out by Alabama’s Najee Harris for the league’s rushing title, but he has collected 15 touchdowns this season. His 45.32% rush success rate is not great, but he’s produced a ton of chunk plays with eight rushes that have gone over 20 yards. He needs just 72 yards to become the first South Carolina running back to reach the 1,000 yard mark since Mike Davis in 2013. Far too many times he’s been stopped at the line or for a negative play with a 20.86% stuff rate. Stopping South Carolina starts and ends with Harris.

Luke Doty (No. 4) was a top-100 prospect and a monster recruiting win as South Carolina convinced the in-state quarterback to stay at home. After being used at wide receiver and some wildcat quarterback earlier this season, Bobo finally turned to young player against Missouri and he got his first career start last week against Georgia. He has some playmaking ability.

In his first real action, Doty has posted a 48.89% pass success rate with just two interceptions/PBUs in 45 throws. However, the chunk plays haven’t been there with just a 11.11% explosive play rate. He took four sacks in his first start and has been mostly ineffective running the football. He is still very much a work in progress and appears to be the future for the program.

On the perimeter, South Carolina’s pass game is very volume heavy to their best player. Shi Smith (No. 13) ranks fourth in the SEC in receptions per game and has reeled in 54 grabs for 605 yards and four touchdowns this season. No other wideout on the roster has more than 10 catches this season. He was cleared from concussion protocol this week and will be back in the lineup on Saturday night.

Smith has a 72% catch rate to go with a 53.33% success rate with a very respectable 20% explosive catch rate. Bobo will use him all over the field and if he’s going this passing attack does have some life. Without him in the lineup, tight end Nick Muse (No. 9) has really stepped up to the plate. The William & Mary transfer has a 100% catch rate in the last two weeks to go with an 85.71% success rate. He is South Carolina’s only other consistent threat in the passing game.

In the trenches, Carolina has really struggled to hold up in pass protection as both Collin Hill and Doty have been under duress when dropping back. They’ve had their moments creating running room for Harris, but this is a middle of the pack at best group in the SEC. Left guard Sadarius Hutcherson (No. 50) is their best player

When it comes to finishing drives, South Carolina has been better than you would expect. They are second in the SEC in red zone touchdown rate but are only scoring 4.11 points per scoring opportunity. That is not very good. Bobo’s offense has struggled to create consistent scoring chances and if they aren’t in the red zone they usually don’t cash in.

Defensive Breakdown

Travaris Robinson has been the coordinator at South Carolina since 2016 after working under Will Muschamp as a secondary coach at both Florida and Auburn. Despite entering the year with some significant star talent and plenty of proven pieces, it has been a rough go for this Gamecock defense.

On Saturday, South Carolina will be out three starters in the secondary with Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu and R.J. Roderick all being opt outs. Horn might be CB1 in the upcoming NFL Draft while Mukuamu is expected to be a top-50 pick. You add this in with leading tackler Ernest Jones at Mike and SEC sack leader JJ Enagbare being rule out for Saturday and this is a very thin defense.

When it comes to defending the run, South Carolina has had some issues. Opposing running backs have a 54.34% success rate while LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia all rushed for over 250 yards. Last week with all of the absences, UGA’s tailbacks posted 351 rushing yards while averaging over eight yards per carry and posting a success rate of 76.74%. The ground game can be established on this front and the potential for a big day could be there for Kentucky.

On the line of scrimmage, South Carolina will be starting a couple of five-star recruits but both defensive tackle Zacch Pickens (No. 6) and EDGE player Jordan Burch (No. 3) are still very young. Aaron Sterling was another starter on this group who was lost early in the season due to injury. This unit has been decimated with attrition and it has shown up in their run defense. Keir Thomas (No. 5) is the best player in this group and the redshirt senior has 5.5 tackles for loss, but is also questionable after missing last week with an injury.

At the second level, no Jones is a pretty significant loss and they really miss him on the inside. This departure has caused outside linebacker Damani Staley (No. 30) to slide inside to Mike while blue-chip true freshman Mohamed Kaba (No. 32) is starting at Will with all of the shuffling going on in the front seven. For depth purposes, Carolina moved running back Zaquandre White (No. 11) over to linebacker and he’s played sparingly in the last few games.

In the secondary, former UK target Jammie Robinson (No. 7) chose the Gamecocks over the Wildcats late in the class of 2019 and the high three-star is now the best player on this defense. Robinson leads the team with 44 solo tackles and plays the nickel position for this defense. Jaylan Foster (No. 27) is the only remaining true starter from the original secondary and the safety has recorded 39 tackles. With the opt outs of starting corners Horn and Mukuamu, Carolina lost four interceptions and six PBUs.

Overall, this pass defense has had some issues. The Gamecocks rank towards the bottom of the league in just about every metric, but only Ole Miss threw for more than 300 yards. Splash plays are there for the taking for just about every offense, but it’s not as bad as you think. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 45.25% success rate while Carolina is allowing a 20.53% big play rate through the air. If you are explosive you can create big plays against this group.

In the extended red zone,  South Carolina has been a roller coaster. Getting stops backed up won them the Auburn game, but they were shredded by Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia. If the Gamecocks are going to win on Saturday they will need to own this area. They held Missouri to just 17 points in five scoring opportunities and that was the biggest reason that was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams Breakdown

Parker White is a four-year starter at placekicker and the senior is 10 of 16 on the season with a 69.6% make percentage on field goals in his career with just two missed extra points. White has seven makes from 40-plus yards this season and half of his misses have come from outside of 50. He’s one of the better kickers in the SEC.

Kai Kroeger is in his first year punting and he has a pedestrian net punting average of 39.06 and that could come into play in a game that will be played in some bad weather. An advantage could be there for Kentucky to gobble up some hidden yards. Mitch Jeter has a 53.66% touchback rate while South Carolina has not gotten much in the return game all season.

SP+ has this special teams unit checking in at No. 88 and there is a plenty clear on paper advantage for UK in the third phase.

Keys to Victory

  • When looking at this matchup, it’s hard to get past the running game. This is what both teams want to do while Kevin Harris and Chris Rodriguez Jr. are two of the best tailbacks in the SEC. The cold weather in the forecast highlights the ground attack even more, but when you look closer UK has a big advantage here. The Gamecocks are very thin on defense and they were just bludgeoned by the Georgia ground game. Meanwhile, UK’s run defense has been strong all season and when Harris can’t pickup chunk plays there will be plenty of inefficiency. If UK can dominate this statistical category it should lead to a double-digit win.
  • Harris gets most of the shine, but it is Shi Smith who is the most dangerous player on this offense. Smith has posted big numbers all season and should get plenty of targets on Saturday. It will be the first time we’ve seen true freshman Luke Doty with Smith at his disposal so that could help bolster the Carolina pass game. With no Kelvin Joseph in the lineup, UK cannot afford to allow the senior to have a big day. Slow Smith and you win the ballgame.
  • After scoring 31 points in five scoring opportunities against Vanderbilt, the offense has been awful in the last eight quarters. Kentucky had just 13 points and one touchdown in seven scoring opportunities against both Alabama and Florida. They only had one scoring opportunity in a second half and that came when UK recovered a fumble against Florida in the third quarter. South Carolina has been able to hang around in games when they get some red zone stops. Kentucky must finish drives to take care of business.
  • The last three weeks we’ve seen Kentucky’s offense come out with a really good script. They moved the ball consistently against Vanderbilt, Alabama and Florida to start games looking like a very competent offense. However, second halves have been lackluster with the offense coming up with a bunch of three-and-outs while throwing three interceptions against Alabama and Florida. UK must find some answers out of halftime or the upset could happen at Kroger Field. Ride Rodriguez and find some other things you can have success with once the opposing defense settles in.

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