Vanderbilt at South Carolina Preview: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Stephen Garcia #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks watches play against the Navy Midshipmen September 17, 2011 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

This post continues our series previewing Vanderbilt. We've previously discussed Vandy's defense and offense.

Three Keys to Victory

3. Have Some Success Passing the Football

Needless to say, the biggest question facing our offense right now is whether it can find a way to throw the ball effectively. With Marcus Lattimore clearly playing at a Heisman level, we could have an epic offense with only a somewhat effective passing game, but that effectiveness has largely eluded us thus far. With Vandy likely scheming for its corners and linebackers to favor run support, there should be plenty of opportunities for us to open up the game in the air. The question is whether or not the coaches take what Vandy gives us rather than going for broke early in the game, and whether Stephen Garcia manages to hit his targets when and if things do open up down field.

2. Defend the Run and Short Pass

Unless Carolina jumps to a big lead very early, I don't know if this is going to be the game where we tally up eight sacks. Why? Vandy is going to look to negate our pass rush--and its QB's ineptitude--by running and throwing tons of slants and screens. Take a look at their drives against Ole Miss--you'll see lots of short-to-mid gains, and you can expect more of the same against a defense Vandy may actually respect. Short-circuiting Vandy's ability to drive down the field in this fashion is the key to our defense's success.

That said, if (I'd like to say "when," but we need to prove we can do it, first) we get a big lead early and force Vandy to play catch-up, then you might see the Taylor / Clowney / Ingram show unleashed.

1. Protecting the Football

It's no mystery that a big part of Vandy's success right now owes to its superlative turnover margin. Vandy would have lost to a bad UConn team if not for turnovers, and its game against Ole Miss, if nothing else, would have been much closer. Although the offense looked decent against Ole Miss, the fact will remain all season that this team won't score many points without the defense creating short fields and / or scoring itself. With its success relying on turnovers, you can expect Vandy to do a number of things to try to force Stephen Garcia to make mistakes. A large part of our success in this game will be determined by how he responds. The good news for Carolina fans is that despite Garcia's accuracy struggles, he's generally been fairly judicious with his decision-making, and the offensive line has done a better-than-average job of protecting him.

Keep reading after the jump.

What It Means

Well, these two teams are tied atop the SEC East standings, so there's that. However, I think we all know that while Vandy is capable of pulling off an upset or two--including tomorrow night--they're not winning the SEC East this season. That being the case, I think this is a game that we not only need to win, but win with a statement. Vandy is a decent team, and I don't expect to rout them. But I do think that we can win convincingly if we put together a complete game, and that's what I'm hoping for.

Prediction

I think Vandy's defense is going to do enough to keep this game from getting out of hand, but I believe we'll play well and win the game. The point margin may not be enough to quiet the naysayers, but we'll be happier next week after seeing the team play a more complete game.

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