Time to host the Vanderbilt Commodores for homecoming. Here are my thoughts on the game.
I don't mean to disrespect Vandy, but we all know that the 'Dores aren't as talented as we are. However, the past two years the 'Dores have been the better team, as they've come to play confident and mentally prepared, whereas as we've come out unfocused and mistake-prone. This year needs to be different. The players have motivation to come out and play their best in this game, that motivation being the fact that they've made fools of themselves in this game for two straight years and have had to endure trash talk from Bobby Johnson. If they can't come out ready to lay the wood tomorrow night, something is wrong with them.
Turnovers have killed us the last two years against Vandy. I mean, seriously, how many times have we thrown interceptions against these guys just when you think we're about to march down the field and score? And to tell the truth, I don't think Vandy is good enough to beat us without coming up way ahead in turnover margin. The problem, of course, is that Vandy knows this and is good at taking calculated risks that end up netting them the turnovers they need. We--especially Stephen Garcia and our offensive line--need to be prepared for this and come out playing smart ball.
3. Running the Football
Vandy has a solid passing defense and relies on turnovers to win games. How do you counter this? You run the football well. For some reason, in both of the past two games against Vandy, we've abandoned the run, despite the fact that we have a size and talent advantage against Vandy in the trenches. With our new focus on running the ball better, I don't think that will be the case this year. We'll run the ball early and often, and whether or not we are successful doing so will go a long way towards telling us how we do in this game.
Remember this game? Our last win against the 'Dores. Despite fumbling the ball a few times, we lit Vandy up in this one. This win started a streak of good play for us that ended with the Vandy loss the following year. Hopefully we'll see the team come out playing like this again (without the fumbles) and gain some momentum going into the tough stretch ahead.
This game worries me simply because we've played so poorly against this team the past two years. However, while this Gamecocks team still has many flaws, it appears to have drastically improved in the area that's been most detrimental to us in the past two Vandy games: turnover margin. Stephen Garcia only has four interceptions on the year, or, in other words, one more than Blake Mitchell and Chris Smelley combined to throw in the infamous 2007 Vandy game. If we can continue to protect the ball well, we'll take away Vandy's best chance to win this game. That's exactly what we'll see happen. I doubt we'll light Vandy up considering the defense they have, but I do think you'll see us pull away late in a physical game for something like a 24-27 to 6-10 Gamecocks victory.