Another weekend, another SEC football game.
This time, South Carolina will welcome James Franklin and the Vanderbilt Commodores to Columbia with both teams looking to pick up their first SEC victory of this young college season.
Vanderbilt has given South Carolina fits in recent memory as the games have been closer as the talent level at Vanderbilt has increased in recent years. It hasn't kept the Gamecocks from winning though as they've won four straight games against Commodores and have won 18 of the last 22 meetings. The average score in the last four games between Vanderbilt and South Carolina is 18.25 - 8.25 in favor of the Gamecocks.
History indicates that this will be a close, low-scoring contest but South Carolina needs to respond with a better overall performance than their last outing against Georgia. The Carolina defense was shredded by the Bulldogs to the tune of 536 yards of total offense. In that performance, South Carolina was attacked through the air and on the ground and really had no answer for Aaron Murray and Toddy Gurley.
This week, South Carolina faces what is likely the SEC's best receiver in Jordan Matthews. Matthews has 16 catches in two games this season for 289 yards and two touchdowns. He has two touchdowns and is averaged 18.1 yards per catch and 144.5 yards per game. As you can see, he's putting up big numbers so far this season. He's a big part of the passing offense for Vanderbilt that is led by Austyn Carta-Samuels. He's thrown for 523 yards with three touchdowns with 60.3 completion percentage.
The defense has held their own with an average of 314.0 yards per game allowed. Vanderbilt has eight sacks through the first two games for a loss of 53 yards for their opponents but have only forced one turnover on defense so far.
The key for Vanderbilt has been their scoring in the second quarter. They have outscored their opponents 56-0 in the second quarter but have been outscored in every other quarter so far this season. The Gamecocks have outscored their opponents in both the first and second quarter this year but have been outscored in the third and fourth quarter. This may be an area to watch to see who can take advantage early in this football and escape with a victory.
With all that said, lets's take a look at this week's This, That and the Other - Vanderbilt edition.
This game has been set up as a challenge of sorts. The Gamecocks were a primed national title contender in week one and stayed there after a solid opening win against North Carolina. Entering into the Georgia game, the Gamecocks were confident and thinking they'd walk out of Athens with a win. Well, that's not what happened and everything we thought we knew about South Carolina, we didn't. Questions abound came up in the South Carolina program but on an area that hasn't had much criticism the last two years - defense. The Gamecock defense appeared out of sync and unfocused against Georgia. The youth in the linebacker group was on display and was a weak part of the defense this past Saturday. Also, the secondary was out of position at times that allowed for some big gains and wide open pass plays.
With these questions in mind, how does South Carolina respond? This is the major area to watch on display this Saturday. We've heard Steve Spurrier speak about being focused on winning seven, eight games and trying to get a bowl game. Not the kind of goals you'd expect to be discussing after two weeks into a season where you were ranked No. 6 in the nation.
Steve Spurrier said he'd be more involved with the defense and you should expect there to be better focus and better effort on display this Saturday. Vanderbilt is not a team that is overlooked by this program. Vanderbilt and its fans think South Carolina is a winnable game for them every year. History says they haven't won many but that they've been competitive nearly every contest for the last several years. A banged up secondary could spell big day for Jordan Matthews so the Gamecocks will need a focused approach in order to eliminate the mental mistakes and limit the big plays by the Commodores.
The first quarter may tell a lot about this game on Saturday and this team. If they come out with a fire and passion for football, then expect a valiant effort. If not, then there will be even more questions about this team that will be fielded once that clock hits zero.
That South Carolina has the least amount of seniors in college football can be a good and a bad thing. Currently, the Gamecocks list five seniors on the roster, including four scholarship seniors, which is three less than the next schools in UCF and Virginia at eight seniors on each team. This means the youth movement is on for the Gamecocks which means they're limited in senior leadership that has been so effective the last few years. If you look at last year's team, you saw players like D.J. Swearinger, Devin Taylor, Shaq Wilson, DeVonte Holloman and more lead this defense with their voices and their play on the field. Now, you've got Chaz Sutton and Jimmy Legree. There's nothing against these two players but they aren't the vocal leaders that you had in a player like D.J. Swearinger.
The Gamecocks need a voice on this defense. One would think Jadeveon Clowney is a prime example but he's never been a big vocal player on defense. If he were to get more involved with firing up this defense then it's possible we wouldn't see some of these mental mistakes. Victor Hampton is a vocal player but he's already been suspended for half a game this season for a violation of team rules. A player that has been here for as long as Hampton should be doing the little things so the younger players follow by example. No one wants a veteran to be slacking and infect others on the team.
There always a good side as well. These young players are hungry. Look at someone like Mike Davis. This young man played a good amount as a true freshman but he's been called into a starting role as a sophomore and has led South Carolina in rushing the past two weeks with 100-yard games against some solid teams. Davis said the other day that the players were angry. He said the players are looking to take their frustrations out on someone and that someone is Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks appear to be treating this game as a statement game. They want to show that this isn't the same old South Carolina as before and make sure people keep them in mind when considering dark-horse national contenders.
Young or old, South Carolina will make sure that Saturday feels like the new Gamecocks that we've grown accustomed to the last two seasons.
The other thing that could help give the Gamecocks some momentum this Saturday is to find a way to create a turnover or two. So far through two games, the Gamecocks have forced zero turnovers. Through the first two games last season, South Carolina had forced six turnovers, including five interceptions. It's amazing what happens when the defense is able to give the Gamecocks a boost of momentum. This past Saturday was a prime example even though it wasn't a turnover. South Carolina forced a punt from UGA in the second quarter who would proceed to mishandle the snap and ended up having to fall on the ball on the UGA 18-yard line. The next play ,South Carolina's offense went for the endzone and scored giving them extra momentum in their comeback early against Georgia.
Forcing a turnover could come from greater pressure on the Gamecocks defensive line. If Clowney, Sutton and company are able to bring the pressure and force Carta-Samuels into uncomfortable situations, they can force a turnover. He's thrown two interceptions so far this season and Vanderbilt has thrown a total of three interceptions in this young season. The great thing about the Gamecocks defensive line is that they are able to bring enough pressure without blitzing. It allows for more players to be focused on the passing game and opens up the opportunities for more turnovers.
Sooner or later, the Gamecocks will get a turnover. This Saturday would be a great start for South Carolina.
The one thing that South Carolina should be pleased with from this past weekend was the offense's performance. While the Gamecocks got down early against UGA, the offense was able to do their part more often than not behind Connor Shaw and Mike Davis and was able to put up 30 points and 454 yards. Shaw was a good game manager on the road against Georgia with effective use of his legs in time of need. He was pretty accurate with the football and made big plays in the passing game with the help of Nick Jones. Mike Davis controlled the ground game and outgained Todd Gurley this past weekend but most don't realize that. Davis has stepped in for Marcus Lattimore with flying colors and has added a breakaway speed option to the backfield we just haven't seen at South Carolina. Even the offensive line has been solid for South Carolina so far this season.
There usually are questions about the offense at this point in the season but there shouldn't be right now from the Gamecock fans. If South Carolina can get on a roll on the ground with Mike Davis early, this will give Steve Spurrier some ammunition for some down the field, play action pass plays that could break the back of the Commodores.
Like mentioned earlier, this will be an opportunity for the defense to answer some questions about their overall performance. They shut down an effective UNC offense to a degree in week one but ended up getting thrashed against better athletes at Georgia. Vanderbilt is yet to be on the Bulldogs level with talent so this will be a game where South Carolina can "right the ship." What this means is a dominating performance from the Gamecocks can certainly regain the faith in the fanbase in Lorenzo Ward and his players and give South Carolina some positive vibes heading into next weekend's bye week.
The best thing that could happen would be for Jadeveon Clowney to open up and unleash the fury on Vanderbilt. This would be good for him, the media, the fans and whoever else is critiquing every single play of the future NFL Draft pick. In South Carolina's third game last season, Jadeveon Clowney had 2.0 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A similar performance on Saturday were certainly go a long way to getting Clowney and his confidence level up for the rest of the season.
The Gamecocks were challenged in week one and week two. They'll be challenged against Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Gamecocks can't just rest on their laurels in this one. They need to come out with energy, passion and a fire you haven't quite seen this season. They need to watch people like Mike Davis and Connor Shaw. Pay attention to how they carry themselves and how hard they go on each and every play this Saturday. Become the Fighting Gamecocks that won 11 games each of the last two seasons.
Do this and you have a good chance to come away with victory on Saturday. Each game is a must win for the Gamecocks and right now, Vanderbilt is a must win.
Let's hope they treat it like one.