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2018 Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt

The Commodores hope to get back to bowl eligibility after hitting a wall in conference play last season.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur will likely be the man again for the Commodores this season.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After spending an unprecedented three weeks in Columbia to start the season, the South Carolina Gamecocks will finally hit the road to Nashville, Tenn., for a date with Vanderbilt on Sept. 22. No game against the Commodores is ever particularly enjoyable, and things tend to get a little weird in their neck of the woods — the last time South Carolina traveled there, it needed a miracle 55-yard field goal from Elliott Fry to win coach Will Muschamp’s debut by a riveting 13-10 margin. We’ll see what absurdity 2018 has in store.

Last meeting: In typical series fashion, last season’s contest against the Commodores was a frustrating and nailbiting affair that resulted in a 34-27 victory for the Gamecocks, but felt less like a win and more like a three-hour root canal. Vandy punched USC right in the mouth by scoring on the game’s first drive, and the teams essentially traded touchdowns throughout. Ever persistent, Vanderbilt remained a threat until its final possession, when the Gamecocks defense forced a turnover on downs. Homecoming was saved that day, but a lot of livers in South Carolina took a beating.

Last season: It was a bit of a rollercoaster for Vandy last year, which finished 5-7 overall and sixth in the SEC East. The season started out with promise, highlighted by a win against then-No. 20 Kansas State, but the Commodores were then ruthlessly dispatched by Alabama (hey, it happens) to kick off a five-game losing streak. The ‘Dores did pick up their sole SEC win against in-state rival Tennessee, which was their fourth victory in six tries against the Volunteers and hadn’t been accomplished since 1926. But Vanderbilt fell short of bowl eligibility, thanks largely to its defense allowing an SEC record 43.3 points per game in conference play.

Player to watch out for: For my money, quarterback Kyle Shurmur was one of the better signal-callers in the SEC last season who got far too little attention because, well, he plays for Vanderbilt. After a scorching start to the season, he did cool off a bit and turned in a few poor performances for the ‘Dores, but overall, he’s got serious potential. Without veteran tailback Ralph Webb, Shurmur will certainly be counted on to lead the Vanderbilt offense. Against the Gamecocks, he very nearly won that game for the Commodores: Shurmur threw for what was a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns against just one interception. If Vandy had a deeper talent pool at receiver, that game could’ve been a different story.

Prognosis: Alabama rotates off its schedule, but Vandy is making the trip to Notre Dame and also has to travel to Athens to face Georgia. The ‘Dores were outclassed by every Eastern division team except the Vols last year (and unfortunately, the Gamecocks), so it’ll be a tough row to hoe. Vanderbilt really needs to shore up its defense to reach a bowl again.