Gamecocks look to pass tough secondary test

The University of South Carolina faced a tougher first three games of the 2011 schedule than many may have anticipated. But after making their way through those 2010 bowl participants unscathed with a 3-0 mark, the 10th-ranked Gamecocks appeared to have a break with the lowly Vanderbilt Commodores coming to town.

Who knew the Commodores, under first-year coach James Franklin, would come to Williams-Brice Stadium undefeated and filled with confidence?

That is who the Gamecocks will face Saturday night. But it has never been easy, as they won their last two games against Navy and Georgia by three points each.

"I don't know the guy (Franklin) very well, but he knows what he is doing," head coach Steve Spurrier said of Vanderbilt's coach. "They have a nice scheme of things, guys don't make mistakes and they're in position. They're taking a lot of pride in their defense at Vanderbilt."

The Vanderbilt defense has picked up 10 turnovers in its first three games, which is bad news for USC senior quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has been underwhelming so far completing 36-of-65 passes for 456 yards and two touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times, including one that ended a late third-quarter drive against Navy deep in Gamecock territory.

On the positive side, he completed more than 50 percent of his passes for the first time this season against the Midshipmen.

The good news for USC is when it hands the ball to sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, things have worked out well. He is coming off a 246-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance against Navy.

On defense, where USC has been maligned throughout the season, it buckled down in the second half, limiting Navy to just one touchdown. Not that it has survived Navy's triple option test; the Gamecocks must prove they can do the same against a conventional offensive attack.

NOTES, QUOTES

--TB Marcus Lattimore earned his first Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor even though he had to share it with Florida's Chris Rainey. Not shy about admitting his desire to win the Heisman Trophy, he is off to a good start, having rushed for 534 yards and seven touchdowns on 87 carries for a 178-yard per game average. He has also caught nine passes for 66 yards.

--SPUR Antonio Allen was a finalist for the league's top defensive performance after leading the Gamecocks in tackles with 10 and snaring an interception to stop Navy's final drive. He has interceptions in back-to-back games in addition to a fumble recovery. Two have been returned for touchdowns

--South Carolina is off to a 3-0 start for the third time under Steve Spurrier. They were 3-0 in 2007 but struggled after that, finishing with a 6-6 record. The Gamecocks were also 3-0 in 2010, when they finished 9-5. The last time South Carolina opened 4-0 was in the 2001 season, when they got off to a 5-0 start before finishing with a 9-3 mark under head coach Lou Holtz.

--The Gamecocks have done a good job of winning in Williams-Brice Stadium. In the past two seasons, Carolina has posted a 6-1 home record in each. South Carolina is 15-2 in its last 17 home games.

SERIES HISTORY: USC leads 16-4 (last meeting 2010, 21-7 USC).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With the running game clicking on all cylinders, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier would like to get the passing game on track, as senior QB Stephen Garcia displayed signs of coming out of his 2011 funk against Navy, but still has a way to go. Despite completing 18-of-25 passes for 204 yards, he didn't have a touchdown and suffered a big interception late in the game. The good news is that for the first time, receivers not named Alshon Jeffery stepped up. Redshirt freshman Nick Jones, a high school teammate of running back Marcus Lattimore, caught three passes. Senior Jason Barnes, relegated to a reserve role following a sub-par performance in the Gamecocks' opener, caught four passes.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Assistant Head Coach-Defense Ellis Johnson is happy to have survived his team's game against Navy, which runs the difficult-to-stop triple option. Now it is back down to business, as he returns to the mission of improving his charges against more traditional offenses. The secondary could receive a jolt, as redshirt freshman Victor Hampton returns after serving a three-game suspension. Although Marty Markett is scheduled to start opposite junior Stephon Gilmore, Hampton will probably receive early playing time if he proves to the coaching staff he can play within the system. The good news is, freshman DE Jadeveon Clowney continues to both improve and impress, as he played his best football against Navy in the second half.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody said the other teams would be down a little bit, but those guys are not down. Florida certainly isn't down. Vanderbilt is not down. All that preseason stuff is just talk. If our guys think we're hot stuff, all we need to do is look at our statistics. We've been scraping by. If we want to have a good year, we'd better improve." -- USC coach Steve Spurrier.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Vanderbilt at South Carolina, Sept. 24 -- This has been an interesting series. Although USC has dominated it, a 21-10 Gamecocks victory last season broke a two-game Commodore winning streak.

KEY'S TO THE GAME: Stop the run. The Gamecocks were one of the best nationally at stopping the run last season. They struggled stopping both the run and pass against Georgia. Despite allowing 276 rushing yards against Navy, it was well below the team's 400-yard average. USC also defended the triple option better as the game progressed. They hope to jump on the Commodores early before an already enthusiastic team gets confident.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Alshon Jeffery -- The junior All-American missed the first play of USC's game against Navy for what coach Steve Spurrier termed a violation of team rules. Jeffery has yet to post a 100-yard receiving game this season and is coming off a two-catch, 35-yard performance against the Midshipmen. With only 12 catches and one touchdown on the season, he will be itching to have a breakout game against a Vanderbilt team that not only is tough against the run, but leads with league with 10 defensive interceptions.

OG A.J. Cann -- The redshirt freshman has lived up to his billing as a potential impact performer when he signed with USC. A crucial piece of the puzzle in the plan to upgrade the line under coach Shawn Elliott, he has played consistently throughout the season.

ROSTER REPORT

--CB Victor Hampton will participate in his first action as a Gamecock after serving a three-game suspension. Although Marty Markett will start opposite Stephon Gilmore, it is expected Hampton will receive playing time as Gilmore's back-up against Vanderbilt. He is a physical corner who plays with confidence, but can be undisciplined at times.

--SPUR Damario Jeffery played on special teams only against Navy after missing the Georgia game with a sprained ankle. Whether or not he will be able to participate more against Vanderbilt is questionable, as the team appears set on having him ready for Auburn the following week.

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