Missouri was certainly advantaged by bringing the Art Briles-inspired “veer and shoot” offense into the SEC, but perhaps not to the extent as if it had done so a few years earlier. There’s a lot of film now on this style of offense, including that of the 2016 Texas Longhorns, who turned to it in an effort to save Charlie Strong’s job.
Will Muschamp clearly had some useful resources to pull from when drawing up the game plan for South Carolina’s 31-13 victory on Saturday.
Here’s how the Gamecocks pulled off the commanding victory in Columbia, Mo.
Step 1: Don’t stop the run, survive it
Missouri ran for 178 yards in this game at 4.8 ypc, but it didn’t really show up on the scoreboard, just between the 20s. That’s the nature of this offense, which is designed to use the full field by attacking every inch of it, but can then bog down when that space is limited.
The real key to stopping this offense is to deny the deep passes over the top that lead to points. You can always load the box to stop the run in the red zone if you don’t give up the easy score on a bomb. South Carolina mixed in a few different calls, but against Missouri’s three-WR sets tended to play a lot of off coverage to the single receiver while playing a safety over the top on the other side of the field. Then they’d lean on their free safety to clean things up if the DL and LBs couldn’t make the initial stop:
The nickel back stays wide and doesn’t commit to come help against the run until he sees the QB hand off. The free safety is a tad more aggressive but maintains some depth to fill behind the linebackers, and that single-side cornerback is bailing before the snap to prevent a deep shot over the top.
On many drives, eventually the DL or LBs would make a play and stop one of Missouri’s runs from this look:
Once behind the chains, Missouri could no longer threaten the full field since it needed to be able to pick up first downs. Once the Tigers were predictable, South Carolina could be more aggressive as a defense and attack tendencies with numbers rather than allowing themselves to be spread so thin.
Step 2: Disguise the defense before the snap
Quarterbacks in this offense tend to rely pretty heavily on pre-snap reads, in part because they have to make so many quick decisions after the snap and in part because the wide splits of the receivers often make it hard for the defense to credibly disguise who will be where.
South Carolina got a key interception early in the game by confusing Drew Lock and giving him a false pre-snap read:
They’re showing that same coverage combo as above but then the strong safety comes down late, after the snap, into the flat as the other safety rolls deep into cover 3. The strong safety then jumps the long, misguided throw into the flat.
Step 3: Don’t stop scoring
The very next play after the INT above was a Deebo Samuel sweep that went for a TD.
It’s essential against this style of offense to keep the pressure on and to keep scoring. Missouri is capable of scoring lots of points in very little time because of the stress that their offensive spacing creates, their speed at wide receiver, and their willingness to throw the ball down the field any time they get a chance.
Even if you’re playing off and daring them to run the ball, that can be a real risk if the defensive front makes some mistakes or starts to wear down and loses its gaps.
South Carolina took a 14-10 lead into halftime and added 10 points in the third quarter and another touchdown in the fourth. They held the ball for 37:36 of game clock, limiting Missouri’s chances and keeping the Tigers out of rhythm. That’s all worthless though if none of the drives bring points. But South Carolina’s drives not only reduced the time for the Tigers’ offense to work but also increased its workload.
The Tigers figure to be a dangerous team in the SEC East this season, but South Carolina continues to run up victories and build a case that it could contend for the division crown.