With tough games down the road against two College Football Playoff opponents (and Florida, who should never be taken lightly despite its record), South Carolina looks to become bowl eligible this Saturday night as the team travels to Nashville for a date with Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks come into this game with a record of 4-4 against the spread but a record of 5-3 straight up. Their most recent matchup was a shocking loss at home to Missouri, which cost them their No. 25 ranking and basically killed all the momentum this squad built over recent weeks.
Vanderbilt enters this one with a record of 3-5 both straight up and ATS with its most recent game having been against — you guessed it — Missouri, which saw the Commodores struggle early then make it real interesting in the second half.
I’d even go as far as saying Vanderbilt played the Tigers better than the Cocks did, but they are still searching for their first SEC win for a reason. So, I will take that matchup with a grain of salt.
In addition to struggling against SEC teams, they are also 1-3 ATS when playing them. Will that change for the better or the worse when the Cocks come to town? Well, all they need to do is stay within a touchdown.
South Carolina is favored over Vanderbilt by seven points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Gamecocks a 68.5% chance at securing the victory.
The total is set at 48.5 points.
Why was the line set at this number?
First off, Vanderbilt is not *that* bad.
The Commodores are 3-1 ATS in games when playing an unranked team. They even managed to beat Northern Illinois as an underdog!
So, they may get pummeled by the cream of the crop of college football, but when the playing fields are leveled a bit — even against a team like Missouri — Vanderbilt has not been awful.
In terms of public perception, I would think most prefer the Cocks here, even after the events of last weekend.
After all, South Carolina has beaten Vanderbilt 13 times in a row! No matter how many points Vegas gives the Commodores, I feel like it would be hard to have the confidence to throw cash on them.
On the flip side, in conference matchups where USC has won, the margins of victory have been six points against Texas A&M and 10 points against Kentucky, where it could be argued that if any other quarterback was playing for the Wildcats, they probably could have finished within seven points.
So, logic is telling me the Cocks will likely keep it close while emotions are calling for a blowout.
Vegas makes a great line once again!
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
They have to have a short memory, brush last week’s performance aside and do what they’ve been doing for the past 13 years against Vanderbilt!
Mental real estate aside, there is one very obvious route to covering the spread on Saturday: running the football.
I couldn’t believe this when reading it but every single team that has played Vanderbilt except for Missouri has ran for at least 100 yards against them.
It’s not like the Tigers didn’t dominate in that department either. Cody Schrader, the team’s leading rusher, ran for 84 yards on only 14 carries, good for six yards per carry!
If Marshawn Lloyd’s injury doesn’t keep him out this week, there is a chance he can feast on this Commodore defense. He may even run for 200 yards.
Vanderbilt likes running the football too, which is definitely the focal point of its offense.
They may not be great at it all the time, like how their leading rusher averaged 1.9 YPC against Missouri and 2.4 against Georgia, but Vanderbilt definitely makes establishing the run a point of emphasis.
The game plan for this weekend looks simple: give Lloyd the ball, stop the run (which the Cocks have honestly been getting better at), re-establish the Beamer Ball mentality, and don’t give this hungry Vanderbilt team any handouts.
It’s just a question if South Carolina executes the plan or not.
What’s the better bet?
Everything that I went over in the previous section implies that USC will not only win, but by a fair amount of points.
How can a team so bad at defending the run keep it close against a team so equipped at running the football?
Well, if I’m not mistaken, the Gamecocks had a three-headed monster of White, Harris and Lloyd last season in the backfield, they rushed for more than 100 yards combined against the Commodores and South Carolina would have lost if not for some late-game heroics by Zeb Noland.
The Commodores came to play last season, and I believe the same will occur on Saturday.
A seven-point line sounds too good to be true, and I believe that will be the case.
I have the Gamecocks winning, but not covering, by somewhere in the three to seven-point range.