South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt: Storylines

It's another week, and another road test in the topsy turvy SEC East as the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2) try their hand in Nashville while taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-4, 1-2 SEC). This time the Gamecocks may be without one of their top offensive threats in freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, as he recovers from an ankle injury suffered last week.

Gamecocks try to reverse the road curse

South Carolina has fallen in six straight road games dating back to last season, and will try to reverse those woes in Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday night. USC first lost on the road this year in Auburn, Alabama in a hard fought 35-27 loss to the Tigers. But it was last week's shocker in Commonwealth Stadium in Kentucky that sent this team to a .500 record in SEC play, and made the East race that much tighter.

While the Gamecocks certainly don't feel overconfident heading into this matchup, they can take some solace in the fact that Vandy possesses a meager 1-2 record at home this year, with the lone win coming in a 52-6 decision over Eastern Michigan.

After being quick to credit the Kentucky team that took them down last week, Coach Steve Spurrier said he really has no explanation for his team's struggles on the road, but did highlight improvement on third down as one way to give them a better chance.

"Playing on the road, I don't know," said Spurrier. "We haven't played very well. We've been sort of a flat bunch it appears at times. But at other times, the guys are really playing well. But again, our third down defense was not good last week. We had so many good plays. We had sacks. We're leading the conference in sacks. But you have to play third down and you have to play the entire game. As it turned out, we didn't do it very well."

"We've got a lot of guys really playing well, really playing well. Unfortunate missed assignment here or there, on the offense as well as the defense. They can come back to get you eventually. Until we can really play our assignments and play good disciplined ball, it is going to be difficult to win consistently. So, anyway, hopefully we can tighten up, take care of the ball and play a solid game in Nashville this week."

Robbie Caldwell gets first crack against Gamecocks

After eight years as the head coach at Vanderbilt, head coach Bobby Johnson retired abruptly earlier this year, and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was named as interim coach. That interim tag has since been removed, and now Caldwell, also a South Carolina native, will get his first try against his home state school.

While South Carolina has lost two out of three in the series, Caldwell's team will have a tall task in containing an SEC East contender hungry for a victory.

Spurrier pointed out that Johnson accomplished a great deal at Vanderbilt, a school renowned more for its academics than athletics, and that other highly esteemed schools around the country are using the same blueprint.

"I think Bobby always had a very competitive team there," noted Spurrier. "Of course, they won a bowl game (two years ago) which was the first one in 30 years or something like that. Bobby had a very competitive team, and, again, Vanderbilt, Duke, the academic schools, when they win more than the lose, they have had a heck of a year, they have had an outstanding year, and that's just sort of the way the academic schools look at it, but you've got to give credit to Northwestern, they've done a super job, a strong academic school and I guess Stanford has done probably the best job of all of the so-called academic schools right now."

While Caldwell's team may have struggled with defense in its most recent contest, a 43-0 loss to Georgia, Spurrier said there is always a big threat when facing a team that is as fundamentally sound as Vanderbilt.

"But Vandy (this year) is tough," said Spurrier. "Their players play with great discipline. I really admire watching them on defense. They are sort of a zone-blitz team, a little bit of man-to-man, but there guys are always in position. It's funny. If this guy has got this area, he's there. If he's got that one, he's there. And they are spread across just exactly the way you draw it up so I admire how they are such a disciplined defense."

Turnovers key for struggling USC D

With a struggling secondary and an offense that may struggle without Lattimore, it will definitely be a key for South Carolina to reverse their negative turnover trend against Vanderbilt. But turnovers are an area that USC has struggled with all season, highlighted by two key interceptions against Kentucky, one of which ended the game as the Wildcats intercepted a Garcia pass in the end zone to finish the game.

Stephon Gilmore also had a tough night and allowed another turnover as he let a punt bounce off of him to give Kentucky a short field for a quick score.

South Carolina is currently tied for last in the SEC in turnover margin, having given up thirteen turnovers while forcing only eight.

"We're just not getting any," said Spurrier. "We haven't had an interception in three games. We got one against Furman and I guess that was the last one. Everybody is throwing third-and-5 at us almost every week. Again, someone has to step up and try to make some plays here and there. But we did have some turnovers last week with the dropped punt. I think that's the first time Stephon has done that. Ace had his fumble at the end of the half. We had a couple of careless picks in the game also. Anyway, we have to move on. We don't want to swell on the last game or even the Auburn game or the Alabama game. We can't dwell on it. We have to move on and try to get ready for Vanderbilt. They'll be tough. They'll watch that Kentucky tape and say we can beat those guys. Let us go get a win, we can beat those guys. We know it's going to be a very tough game."

Keeping the focus for four quarters

Last week in the first half, South Carolina was an offensive juggernaut, putting up 28 points in the opening two quarters. But after halftime it was another story, as USC simply couldn't get going, and was unable to put up a single point against the Kentucky defense. The Gamecock offense also struggled late in their road loss at Auburn.

Spurrier promised this week that the Gamecocks will try to switch a few things up this weekend, and eliminate the mistakes that have plagued the USC offense in the latter stages of big ballgames.

"That's a good question, that is a good question," said Spurrier. "The last game all of our problems began in the second half, penalties, dropped snap from center, didn't have very good field position, didn't run the ball very well and we didn't go very far. But other than that, there is really no answer particularly. We don't get on the field as quickly as we would like at times, but we've got to get better on third downs and get the other team off the field. That's a problem we have had, getting the other guy off the field. We're going to make some changes. Yeah, we are not going to do the same thing over and over again. We are going to do something different and see if it doesn't help us."

The Head Ball Coach also promised more toughness from his players, both physically and mentally as they look to rebound and continue down this key SEC stretch.

"It's called mental toughness," said Spurrier. "That's a new word I've learned from these people talking about the Dallas Cowboys. They're not mentally tough, which is the reason they're making a lot of mistakes. Maybe that's us too. Our coaches can't get our guys to be mentally tough. (But) we've got a chance if we can go play ball. We'll see if we can improve from our mistakes."

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