The Gamecocks host the Vanderbilt Commodores this Saturday evening for nighttime action at Williams-Brice Stadium. Coming off a tough loss in Athens to the Georgia Bulldogs, the Gamecocks will be looking to get their season back on the right track against the upset-minded 'Dores. What do the Gamecocks need to do to win?
Three Keys to Victory
3. Establish the Run
If you got to watch Vandy's game against Ole Miss, you saw Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace and tailback Jeff Scott team up to blast the Commodores on the ground. Vandy has had trouble defending the zone-read in the past, and that continued to be the case against the Rebels. I see no reason why we can't have more success on the ground than the Rebels. We run a similar offense with better weapons. Mike Davis has emerged as a budding star at tailback for the Gamecocks, and the now-healthy Connor Shaw is again showing his noted dynamism running the football. Brandon Wilds provides an excellent backup at tailback, and our offensive line should be able to open some big holes against Vandy. I would love to see us absolutely dominate this game on the ground. It would take significant pressure off our beleaguered defense for us to mount some long, clock-churning drives.
2. Leaders Need to Emerge on Defense
Last year's defense was bolstered by strong leadership from D.J. Swearinger and Shaq Wilson. The two players had different styles, but both enjoyed the respect of their teammates and were able to keep their teammates aware of their roles, keep them focused, and keep them motivated. These were the guys who rallied the troops when things got interesting. Last week, the Gamecocks suffered from a distinct lack of leadership. Players made mistakes, and no one rallied the troops. Instead, there was confusion and finger-pointing, even fighting on the sidelines by the coaches. It was concerning to see what had formerly been such a focused, cohesive unit fall apart like that. The Vandy game is another week, though, and hopefully some of our more experienced players have taken the reins, circled the wagons, and are helping this group refocus on stopping a talented Vanderbilt offense.
1. Don't Let Georgia Beat Us Twice
The Gamecocks are a solidly more talented team than Vanderbilt. That's not to say that Vandy can't win the game, and if it were in Nashville, I might be moderately concerned. However, with the game in Columbia, we'll need to play significantly below expectations to lose this one. The problem is that the hangover from the Georgia loss might be enough to cause us to play poorly. What happens if Vandy hits some big plays early? Does the defense weather the storm or does it implode? Does the crowd get down on the team and lose interest? I'll have to admit that I'm not as optimistic as these folks that our fans will be at their best for this one. People are disappointed after last week and this week's opponent isn't one to inspire excitement. What happens if we're in a tight game late? Do our guys get overly anxious about losing their grip on the season? When it comes down to it, this game is all about weathering the adversity the team currently experiences. It's a test of fortitude for the Gamecocks.
Vandy doesn't have the offensive firepower Georgia has, but they have a solid, balanced offense led by a senior QB, a good offensive line, one of the country's best receivers in Jordan Matthews, and a stable of good backs. They're going to provide a nice test for our defense. Even if our defense fails the test, though, we should be able to outscore the 'Dores. Ole Miss scored a lot of points against this team, and our more talented, less turnover-prone offense should have even more success, particularly at home. We may not score any more or even as many points, considering our style and tendency to shorten games with a ball-control offense, but we should move the ball at will. Carolina in a relatively high-scoring game, 34-24.