Coming out of South Carolina’s 2019 football season, the numbers and the eye test told some different tales. The Gamecocks’ defense seemed stout at times. It had some talented pieces up front and in the defensive backfield. There were moments when USC simply smothered certain opponents.
But the final traditional numbers were decidedly mundane. Will Muschamp’s team finished 2019 ranked 53rd in points allowed per game and 53rd in yards allowed per play. Neither of these seems that great. But that doesn’t tell the full story, the tale of the strongest defense of the Muschamp era.
The first notable one is that the USC defense faced more drives than the average team. When one looks at points allowed per drive, the defense ranks a more respectable 42nd. Then one takes rankings that adjust for the strength of the opposition, the Gamecocks jump into the top-30 nationally, 29th on defense in the SP+ ratings, 28th in the FEI ratings.
This is because based on the latter rankings’ numbers, the collection of offenses the Gamecocks faced last year ranked as third-best in the country. Only Ohio State and Wisconsin took on more efficient offenses across the balance of the schedule.
Using yards per play numbers, the Gamecocks drew three top-15 offenses, plus another in the top 30 and two more in the top 46.
More often than not, the Gamecocks managed to hold opponents below their usual averages. But when the dam broke, it tended to crack in a big way.
Offenses such as Kentucky and Appalachian State were held to nearly half their usual per-play outputs. Florida and Georgia were each held below their usual days by more than half a yard per play.