A long seven days for the South Carolina Gamecocks after their loss to Georgia was made even longer when inclement weather forced the cancellation of last week’s game against Marshall. As a result, it feels like it’s been ages since the Gamecocks came even remotely near a football field (75 days, to be exact, according to Javon Kinlaw). With the absence of that potential bounce-back game has come a certain sense of doom, gloom, and general foreboding. Can South Carolina right the ship against the Vanderbilt Commodores? Here’s what we’ll be looking for.
Get the ground game going. South Carolina is currently last in the SEC in rushing, putting up a paltry 317 yards on 58 carries. Of course, this comes with an asterisk: The Gamecocks have played one less game than the rest of the conference. Even still, we all know this is an area South Carolina needs to improve. Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams have broken some nice runs, but both continue to be rotated in and out as neither has separated himself. Even more puzzling, AJ Turner seems to have disappeared from that rotation, despite how much of a reliable playmaker he was down the stretch last season. I don’t understand how the backs are being managed right now, but something needs to open up here — whether it’s playcalling, adjusting the personnel, or just plain execution.
Catch some passes. It’s been harped on by coach Will Muschamp and others, but the Gamecocks’ receivers (and running backs) dropped several well-thrown balls against Georgia — some of which had dire consequences. This is normally a sure-handed unit, so hopefully that performance can just be chalked up to a bad day against a superior team. It certainly can’t continue if South Carolina wants to have any success on offense.
Don’t let Kyle Shurmur get comfortable. Vanderbilt’s experienced quarterback is the type of player who would probably get more attention if he didn’t, well, play for Vanderbilt. But in any event, he threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns against one interception in last year’s game, and he’s plenty capable of carving up South Carolina’s work-in-progress secondary this time around. The Gamecocks need to employ their usual bend-don’t-break approach between the 20s and try to get some pressure on Shurmur. This would be a good time for the defensive line to make some noise.
It’s been well-documented by now how much I dread games against Vanderbilt, so I’ll try not to beat a dead horse here. The Commodores always play tough, and we don’t know how the erasure of the Marshall game will affect South Carolina. Will the Gamecocks come in rusty, or too over-hyped? Or will they come in with a laser focus, ready to play some ball and kick some ass? I’m not sure, but regardless, I think South Carolina takes this one in a low-scoring, never-too-scary-but-also-not-quite-comfortable win. I’ve been sticking with 28-24 all week, so let’s go with that.