Florida took down South Carolina in what I will call an uneven performance. I think you may find some things in this review are better than you thought, and I will both help you find those things and reconcile them with what it felt like to watch this game.
This review is based on Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of winning, and sacks are counted as pass plays. I eliminated the drives that killed the clock at the ends of the two halves.
Everyone has a different definition for what counts as an “explosive play”, but I go with runs of at least 12 yards and passes of at least 16 yards. This is a change from the runs of 10+ and passes of 20+ that I’ve used in the past, but I’m changing to match others in the analytics community. I’ve also eliminated plays so close to the end zone that they can’t result in an explosive gain (e.g. a run from the 4-yard line, or a pass from the 13-yard-line), so the percentages may look higher than you expect.
|Team||Runs 12+||Pct.||Passes 16+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
The Gators’ overall explosive play rate was only down 2.2 percentage points from a week ago. The component parts were very different, though. The explosive run rate fell from 16.0% to 6.7%, and the sole explosive run came from Kyle Trask of all people. Meanwhile the explosive pass rate rose from 26.8% to 29.2%. Will Muschamp’s defense kept the run from breaking out, but it had few answers for the downfield passing.
The Gamecocks’ offense barely had any success in finding big plays. It’s the key to the game that unlocks how to understand it: Florida would not give up big plays. Sometimes at a cost to other aspects of the contest, as you’re about to see.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
The Gators were highly efficient in both the run and pass. For most of the game, anyway. We’ll get to that in a second. They kept the ball moving with the run even without big plays, and the explosive nature of the passing attack didn’t come at the expense of down-by-down success. This is exactly what you want to see from this table as far as the offense goes.
The defense? Well, it did keep the Gamecocks’ passing game to a subpar efficiency rate, although a number of drops helped it out. But keeping things in front of them meant that there was space for ball carriers in the first few yards past the line of scrimmage.
The defensive front couldn’t stuff the South Carolina run to save its life. Seriously: they didn’t once stop a run play for no gain or a loss without help. The only run play to go for less than a gain of one yard was when Deshaun Fenwick fumbled the option pitch from Collin Hill and Ventrell Miller recovered. That’s it.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
As great a number as Florida put up in the first quarter, it put up a similarly bad number in the fourth. Kadarius Toney converted a 3rd & 1 on the first play of the final frame. It was the only success play out of seven for the entire quarter. Granted Trask’s interception sure looked suspect and should’ve been reviewed, but a combination of a misfiring offense late and a defense that refused to get off the field kept the Gators to 50 plays run in the whole game (excluding kneel-downs).
South Carolina possessed the ball a ton late despite basically an average success rate. It used 11 plays, including a pair of fourth down conversions, to go 39 yards for a touchdown after the pick. The Gamecocks then took 18 plays, including two more fourth down conversions, to get down to the UF 4-yard-line on their last drive.
UF got five third down stops across two drives, but thanks to game conditions requiring Carolina to go for it, only the last of them actually led to the end of a series. It required Florida’s only fourth down stop (in six attempts) with 48 seconds to go.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
Trask was mostly terrific again, though he got a little out of sync in the second half. This line from Hill is exactly what you’d expect for an opponent to have in a blowout win for the Gators.
I’m not going to post the table for Carolina’s receiving, but WR Xavier Legette led Carolina with 7.3 yards per target, followed by RB Kevin Harris at 5.4. Shi Smith caught one of the three explosive passes and converted one third and two fourth downs, but he finished with 4.4 yards per target. For as much as Smith gets targeted — 17 in the drives I included versus 29 for everyone else — UF did about as well as could be expected.
If Florida is going to spend a third of its plays for the whole game on trying to get the ball to just two players, let those two be Pitts and Toney. And that’s what happened: 17 combined plays to Pitts (eight targets) and Toney (seven targets, two carries) made up 34% of the team’s 50 offensive plays.
This was a muted performance for Pitts after the explosion last week. I mean, yes, he scored two touchdowns. Those aren’t nothing. However, 7.1 yards per target is a pittance (ahem).
I wouldn’t worry too much, though. One incompletion was very nearly a TD, it’s just his toe hit the out of bounds line. A couple more incompletions were throws under pressure from Trask that weren’t completely on target. To the extent that South Carolina figured out a solution to Pitts, it was to get after Trask.
Pierce again is far out ahead in terms of yards per carry among the running backs, though Davis got his success rate up. I heard one complaint about Florida’s run game after this one, but again, they only ran 50 plays on the game. The mix was 31 pass to 19 run, and a 60-40 split is pretty normal for 2020. With Pierce a hair under six yards per carry on the year, there’s no worry here yet as far as I’m concerned.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|South Carolina||Own 30||43||53.8%|
UF may have gifted the Gamecocks a couple of short fields, but the Gators won the average starting field position contest by a wide margin. How? South Carolina’s punter had a couple short ones after drives that went nowhere, and Toney had a pair of good returns including a 26-yarder.
A trip inside the 40 is a drive where the team has a first down at the opponent’s 40 or closer or where it scores from further out than that. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the opponent’s 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points||Pts./Drive|
UF would’ve been up over four points per drive (at 4.20) for the second straight week if Pitts’s toe had stayed in bounds and the Gators didn’t have to settle for a field goal in the first half. If you keep the field goal but toss out the one-play fumble drive, which functionally isn’t that different from fumbling away the preceding punt, you get roughly the same figure (4.22 points per drive). Toss in the pick that should’ve been overturned but wasn’t reviewed, and the Gators were a hair away from another thoroughly dominant performance.
I don’t love the 2.4 points per drive for South Carolina, but it is only a hair above what Tennessee managed last week (2.25). Carolina is a top 25 recruiter and has a legit good OC now. In scoreboard terms, this was a good performance.
Trask had a pair of turnovers with his fumble and (questionable) pick, while South Carolina’s fumbled pitch was the only one in the other direction. UF forced a turnover on downs late as well.
Last Tuesday, Todd Grantham explained his theory of running out the clock at the end of a game using the defense. Skip ahead to 12:09 here to hear it.
Most teams want to get the ball back and kill the clock with their offense and running game. This year, Florida with Grantham appears totally fine with killing the clock with a lead by having the defense force the opponent to run lots of clock. Against Ole Miss, that meant the Rebels getting the ball down 22 with 5:14 to go and staging a 16 play, 75-yard drive in 4:16. The Rebels got the ensuing onside kick, but they then had to score twice in a minute to even tie. That’s a big ask even from that good an offense, and they didn’t end up scoring at all.
To the extent it happened again against the Gamecocks — someone will have to ask Dan Mullen or Grantham about the matter — it was them taking over down 14 with 8:05 to go and going on an 18 play, 74-yard drive in 7:22. Muschamp and Bobo assisted with way too many running plays for a hurry-up scenario, but that probably played right into the Gators’ hands if Grantham’s run-out-the-clock-with-defense strategy happened again.
It sounds unconventional in the way he explained it, but it does fit in with traditional late game strategy. Don’t give up a big play. Keep them in front of you. Stretch things out, and they’ll make a mistake eventually. You can capitalize on that provided you don’t make a big mistake of your own.
I may be reading too much into Grantham’s answer and making too big a deal out of this. But, the answer from last Tuesday does tell you why they seem like they’re playing a little soft at the end of the game instead of trying to slam the door shut.
And look: through three quarters, Florida led by three touchdowns at 38-17. Excluding the drive that killed the first half clock and the drive in progress when the third quarter ended, UF led points per drive by a 4.8 to 2.1 margin. In yardage terms, they led 330 to 214 in total and 8.0 to 4.2 on a per-play basis. UF’s offense had a blistering 65.9% success rate to Carolina’s good-but-not-as-good 49%.
Success rate aside, that’s a blowout. Yeah, the fourth quarter was a frustrating way for it to end for a number of reasons, not the least because it didn’t look like how the best Florida teams from the past would close out games.
But this one wasn’t that close most of the way. And as long as you’re willing to ascribe skill and not luck to the Florida defense’s ability to not give up big plays late, then it never was that close. The Gators successfully ran out the clock. They just did it by keeping Carolina players in bounds as they gained small bits of real estate, not by racking up first downs with their own run game.
It’s not a strategy for all seasons, or even all games. It fit for the first two games, so I think we’ve seen it twice. It doesn’t make for the prettiest scoreboard possible, but it did help lead to a 2-0 start. It’s the 2020 college football season: survive and advance.