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Stats Don't Lie: Examining the Gamecock run game

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CJ Driggers

South Carolina’s offense entered Saturday’s game against Arkansas on a mission. The Gamecock offensive line, decimated by injuries, crumbled under pressure. The team rushed for just 69 yards and allowed seven sacks against Texas A&M the week before, looking lost at times.

Arkansas presented a unique challenge. One of the first odd fronts (Three down linemen) the Gamecocks had seen all year, the offensive line had to be perfect in communication if it wanted to help a stagnant running game find life.

For just the second time all season, the Gamecocks ran the ball more than they threw it, racking up 159 yards on 36 carries, a season-high 4.4 yards per carry.

So why was South Carolina so successful in the running game Saturday?

What went right Saturday

After the game, quarterback Jake Bentley credited center Alan Knott for getting a ragtag bunch of offensive linemen on the same page against an unusual defensive front. Knott admitted that he communicated well and the line knew its assignments.

Knott credited the game plan and mentioned that the Gamecocks came in planning to run the ball and run the ball well.

Part of it has to do with Arkanas’ odd front. The line did a good job limited the linebackers and preventing them from flowing freely.

The play-calling helped as well. While I’d argue that the playbook opened up once the Gamecocks began to move the ball, there was no doubt that the offense showed several looks that it hasn’t shown in several weeks.

Seven players had carries, led by Rico Dowdle’s 11. Ty’Son Williams and Mon Denson each had eight carries, AJ Turner had five, Hayden Hurst had two and Bryan Edwards was given his first carry of the season.

In all actuality, it was probably a combination of all of the above, in addition to having Dowdle back around 100 percent.

Dowdle has been battling a thigh contusion suffered on the first series of the Missouri game and though he’s played in every game since, it’s been obvious that the sophomore has been at less than full strength.

While Dowdle’s numbers weren’t very flashy — just 11 carries for 61 yards — his consistency kept the offense on schedule. 10 of Dowdle’s 11 rushes went for at least four yards and his first three runs of the second half went for seven, 10 and nine yards, respectively.

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Moving Forward

It is unclear if South Carolina will get any of its three injured offensive linemen back against Tennessee. Regardless, this is an outing that the offense can build on.

Arkansas currently ranks 47th in the country in rushing defense, having allowed 730 yards in five games. 285 of those were given up to Texas A&M, including 109 to dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond. Mond actually accounts for 19 percent of the total rushing yardage Arkansas has given up all season.

Texas A&M and TCU rank 23th and 26th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Those two teams combined for 66 percent of the total yardage the Razorbacks have give up on the ground this season.

All of this is to say that Arkansas’ run defense is not bad. It’s not great, but South Carolina averaged 4.4 yards a carry in a game where it ran the ball 36 times and only benefitted from two explosive runs, a 13 yard sweep by Hayden Hurst and an 18-yard scamper by Ty’Son Williams (Explosive runs are considered runs of at least 12 yards and often inflate a team’s rushing yardage).

Arkansas’s numbers in the run defense are inflated by a few huge runs given up to Texas A&M, including Mond’s scramble. By taking out the Aggies’ five explosive runs, Arkansas’s yards allowed per rush drops from 4.35 to 3.46.

South Carolina was able to run the ball consistently on the Razorback defense, averaging 4.8 yards per rush before pulling its starters. Without counting the two explosive runs, South Carolina’s offense still averaged 4.0 yards per carry, well above Arkansas’s season average.

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Furthermore, the Gamecocks did it in a game when Ty’Son WIlliams was battling an illness. The Gamecock offense has had it’s best two backs at 100 percent for just one game, the season opener against an NC State team ranked eighth nationally against the run.

If you look at the stats, South Carolina has not run the ball well, averaging less than 100 yards a game. That number is quite misleading though, as it includes sack yardage. Taking Jake Bentley out of the equation, the Gamecocks have run for 609 yards on 140 carries, or around 4.35 yards a carry and 102 yards a game.

The yards per carry stat would move South Carolina from its current position of 112th to 60th. South Carolina’s longest run of the year (The most likely to skew the statistics) is 35 yards, or 58th best of those 60 teams, ahead of Arkansas and LSU.

Obviously, I do not have the time to account for the impact of each team’s quarterback rushing stats on the overall rushing numbers, but many of the teams ahead of the Gamecocks do have mobile quarterbacks that can boost the team’s overall rushing numbers. Furthermore, South Carolina has lost 108 rushing yards on 16 sacks, good for 110th in the country.

By the eye test, South Carolina has struggled to run the ball in a more traditional sense at times this year, but three of the six teams South Carolina has faced rank in the top 30 in rushing defense, including No. 8 NC State and No. 11 Kentucky.

The current rankings of the rushing defenses South Carolina will face are as follows: 124, 121, 5, 71, FCS, 14.

Obviously, aside from Georgia at 5 and Clemson at 14, South Carolina’s remaining opponents do not excel against the run. If both Dowdle and Williams stay healthy, South Carolina should find more success in the running game, especially now that Eric Wolford has seen nine offensive linemen in meaningful game action and should be able to put the best five out on the field when Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young return.

All of this is to say that I believe South Carolina’s run game at the halfway point is not nearly the problem it seems to be at first glance.

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