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Notre Dame Football

Early Look at South Carolina

December 6, 2022
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After 10 games, South Carolina was 6-4 and just came off getting beat down by an average Florida squad when they were next up to play College Football Playoff contender Tennessee. They were 23.5 point underdogs heading into the match up.

That’s why they play the games.

South Carolina ended all hopes of a CFP appearance for Tennessee and put up 63 points and won by four scores. They followed that up by beating Clemson the next week and ruining any longshot hopes the Tigers had of backdooring into the CFP.

Shane Beamer spoke very confidently about his team after that game and why wouldn’t he? His group had turned around their season and hope is at an all-time high for the Gamecocks. It seems fitting that they have a chance to knock off another high-profile program in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl when they face Notre Dame.

Finishing 29th in F+, South Carolina is a good opponent for the Irish and there are a lot of things that make this one of the more intriguing games of the bowl season.

Offense

They are 38th in OF+, 63rd in EPA per play, and 31st in yards per play against Power 5 competition.

Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler leads the way at quarterback and he had an extremely up and down season. The high was the Tennessee game where he was lights out finishing with 11.8 yards per attempt and six touchdowns.

At one time he was considered to be a top NFL prospect. Earlier this season he looked like a future undrafted free agent. He could be playing himself back into a position to be drafted and having a strong game against Notre Dame would go a long way with that.

He has great physical tools and is a plus athlete who can escape the rush.

His top receiver is James Madison transfer Juice Wells. Named first team All-SEC by PFF, he’s third in the country in yards after catch per reception. He’s an explosive player and can be added to the list of the best receivers the Irish have faced this season.

The passing game has been the best part of the offense all season, but it has really taken off in the last month. It was the second highest rated passing offense in the country over the last month of the season.

One dimensional

The running game hasn’t been very good for them. They are 120th in stuff rate, 95th in opportunity rate, and average 3.22 yards per carry vs Power 5 competition. Vanderbilt is the only team they had a lot of success running against out of the Power 5 teams they played.

Questions

Which Rattler is going to show up? The good one showed up against Tennessee, but they are 116th in EPA per pass (Notre Dame is 31st).

Outside of that Tennessee game, Rattler had 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and had 7.4 YPA.

TE Jaheim Bell and TE Austin Stogner both entered the transfer portal. Those were their two top tight ends this season. How much is that going to have an impact on what they do on offense? They combined for 45 catches.

Defense

They finished 53rd in DF+, 88th in EPA per play, and 61st in YPP vs Power 5 competition.

Pretty much every SEC team is loaded with blue-chip talent on the defensive line and South Carolina is no exception. They have former 5-star Jordan Burch (15.3% pass rush win rate), former 5-star Zacch Pickens, and former 4-star DT Tonka Hemingway (3rd team All-SEC for PFF) leading the way.

In terms of raw talent up front, the only Irish opponent that had more was Clemson.

Bad against the run

Even with all of that talent, they are 123rd in EPA per rush, 114th in opportunity rate, and 129th in stuff rate. They have given up 5.18 YPC vs Power 5 competition.

That’s not exactly a great recipe against Notre Dame’s offense.

They are also 102nd in sack rate, 97th in 3rd down defense, and have produced a meek 14.1% Havoc rate. This isn’t a great defense by any metric.

What will the pass defense look like without Smith?

CB Cam Smith is opting out for the NFL Draft. He’s a projected first round draft pick.

The one thing they did so well on defense is defend the pass (30th in EPA per pass), but when you lose a corner who is that good, there is going to be a drop off.

Special teams

Notre Dame has had an edge over just about every special teams group they have played this season. Let’s call it even with South Carolina.

They have blocked six kicks, have the third highest PFF grade out of any ST unit, have a field goal kicker who is 10 of 10 on field goals, and P Kai Kroger is second in the country in punting average.

I guess it could be called Beamer Ball 2.0. They are very good and it’s more likely that this ends up being an area where both teams are well prepared and don’t make mistakes.

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