Showcasing Biggest Strengths and Glaring Weaknesses of South Carolina
After two straight losses to LSU and Florida in October, the South Carolina Gamecocks have won three straight games and head into Clemson on Saturday hoping to make a big bowl game this season.
The Gamecocks (9-2, 6-2 SEC) lost star running back Marcus Lattimore against Tennessee, but that hasn't kept them from fighting, even when Georgia clinched the SEC East against Auburn on Nov. 10.
Here's a look at South Carolina's strengths and weaknesses this season heading into the postseason.
Okay, I don't know what happened against FCS opponent Wofford, but overall South Carolina has been solid against the run this season, holding opponents to 3.03 yards per carry (ninth in the FBS, via CFBStats.com) and eight rushing touchdowns (tied for 10th).
That included holding Florida running back Mike Gillislee to 37 yards on 19 carries on Oct. 20.
The Gamecocks, led by Chuck Bednarik Award candidate Jadeveon Clowney, have racked up 34 sacks (tied for eighth in the nation) and 78 tackles for loss (tied for 19th) this season.
Clowney has 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss himself.
South Carolina posted a combined nine sacks against SEC opponents Georgia, LSU, Florida and Arkansas.
Punt Return Unit
Junior wide receiver Ace Sanders ranks 12th in the country and first in the SEC in yardage per punt return (13.88), which includes a 70-yard return for a touchdown against Georgia on Oct. 6.
He's always a threat to bring it to the house.
Some teams just have an uncanny knack of stripping the ball from their opponents. Some call it an art.
The Gamecocks forced 14 fumbles this season, tied for 12th in the nation and third in the SEC. They have forced seven of those fumbles in their last two games against Arkansas and Wofford and they also forced a fumble against LSU.
South Carolina has averaged 4.2 penalties per game this season, tied for 10th in the nation and tied for first in the SEC with Alabama.
While South Carolina has had its ups and downs in 2012, it hasn't hurt itself with penalties, which is the sign of a well-coached program.
Opponents' Red-Zone Conversion Rate
Part of the reason South Carolina has been able to hold opponents to 17.5 points per game this season is because the Gamecocks generally buckle down in the red zone.
They have allowed a red-zone conversion rate of 70.3 percent (14th in the nation) while allowing a red-zone touchdown rate of 43.2 percent (eighth).
Punt Return Coverage
South Carolina has held opponents to 36 yards on nine punt returns this season, an average of four yards per return.
That's tied for 14th in the country.
Kickoff Return Unit
While Ace Sanders has been brilliant on punt returns, the kickoff return unit for South Carolina hasn't exactly been electric.
The Gamecocks are averaging 20.19 yards per kickoff return this season, 85th in the country and 12th out of 14 teams in the SEC.
Sheesh, the Gamecocks sure don't like kickoffs this season.
In addition to the lowly yardage per return, they have also allowed 23.45 yards per return, 99th in the nation.
The good news is that they haven't allowed an opponent to take it to the house, but it's still not putting your defense in the greatest field position.
Sacks/Tackles for Loss Allowed
Part of this is due to having a scrambling quarterback in Connor Shaw, but, still allowing 31 sacks (tied for 105th) and 72 tackles for loss (tied for 101st) is a good way to hurt yourself and squash momentum in the process.
While South Carolina has been good at forcing fumbles, it has also been good at giving away the pigskin.
The Gamecocks have fumbled the ball 15 times this season, losing 10 of them (tied for 71st in the nation, tied for eighth in the SEC). They lost three fumbles in the 44-11 loss to Florida on Oct. 20.
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