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Vanderbilt brings a tough running game to Williams-Brice averaging 177 yards per game. Can this be the week USC steps up and stops the run?
PORTER: This needs to be the week the defensive line shows why they received so much hype entering the season. If Vandy can remain two-dimensional they can cause the same problems Georgia did. While they don't have an Isaiah Crowell, they do have Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour. Both are very capable backs. Carolina also has to be aware of Larry Smith at quarterback. He can hurt you with his legs just as he can with his arm. If South Carolina can make Vanderbilt one-dimensional the defensive line can pin their ears back and add on to Smith's sack total that sits at 10 after three games.
MITCHELL: Vanderbilt has had some success running the football but the Commodores just aren't that good overall offensively. While South Carolina's starting linebackers are upperclassmen, Reggie Bowens is really getting the first major playing time of his career this season and Shaq Wilson was returning after missing almost all of last season with a hamstring injury. I say that to say there may have been more of a settling in period there than originally thought. Bowens may be the most naturally talented 'backer on the team and Wilson has proved in the past he can rack up a bunch of tackles. This could be the week things gel together there.
LOHD: Yes. USC should be able to contain the Vandy running threat due to the lack of a Vandy passing attack. USC should be able to get pressure on the Vandy QB as the ‘Dores are ranked 109 in the NCAA in sacks allowed this season. The Commodores have given up 10 sacks so far this season, an average of 3.3 per game. Expect Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram to get the green light for constant pressure. Expect all three and others to disrupt the Vandy backfield. In saying all that, it means that USC should be able to control the line of play, dictate the pace and be successful in shutting down Vandy.
LIFE: Vanderbilt has got two backs that will try their best to control this game against the Gamecocks. Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour have put up some impressive numbers but I think the Gamecocks are ready for this weekend. I look for a more physical approach from the Gamecocks against the run. I expect Jadeveon Clowney to have a big impact in this game and the speed of the defensive front seven for South Carolina should be able to contain the Commodores and hold them much less than their 177 yard average. This should be the start of the turnaround on defense for South Carolina.
Vic Hampton is back and expected to play, how will this factor in against Vandy?
PORTER: Hampton will provide some depth in the secondary that is much needed with Auguste still out. Hampton has shown to be a physical defender that won't back down and that's what this secondary needs. He garnered high praise from the coaches, but he has to show it on the field. This will be the first game for Hampton so I expect there will be some rust that will need to be shaken off, but as I stated in one of my predictions for this week, Hampton will not go unnoticed this week.
MITCHELL: Any time you're counting on a player who has never played college football to come in and help you get better, there's always going to be a worry. But Hampton is talented. He's a great cover corner. Steve Spurrier has talked a lot about more man coverage and Hampton excels in doing just that. He'll just provided depth early but if he proves he can be trusted, he could earn a lot of playing time in the future.
LOHD: This is a welcomed sight as this means depth in the secondary and that is something that can only be a positive. As for the play with having Hampton there, it will mean more aggression from the secondary which needs to happen. I feel for certain this will be a boost for the secondary and you are likely to see more man coverage because of it.
LIFE: This should be a great opportunity for Victor Hampton to finally show off his talents. We know he's got the physical gifts but is he ready mentally? That's the main question. I believe that Hampton will be able to make an immediate impact in that secondary. He's got the speed and size to keep up with the Vandy receivers and I think he could end up playing most of this game if he's focused. Losing Akeem Auguste and the inconsistent play of C.C. Whitlock opens up a chance. Hampton could easily take over the starting corner spot opposite Stephon Gilmore with a solid performance this weekend.
Despite records, every single year it seems Vanderbilt plays South Carolina close even when the Gamecocks have the better team. What's been the missing element to putting the Commodores away and how do they always hang around?
PORTER: Killer instinct. South Carolina has proven to be notorious for playing to the level of its opponent. When playing a great team, Carolina looks great. When playing a bad team, Carolina plays bad. Unfortunately, three games into the 2011 season and they are showing signs of being the same team. Only difference is they are finding ways to win when in the past they were finding ways to lose. That has been evident in past match-ups with Vanderbilt. South Carolina is 16-4 all-time against Vanderbilt, but they have been anything but dominant performances in recent years. In 2007 South Carolina entered the Vandberbilt contest 6-1 on the season after a 21-15 win over North Carolina the week before. The Gamecocks were sixth in the nation and looking to move into the top five. Gamecock fans know all too well what happened from there. Vanderbilt beat Carolina 17-6, the beginning of a five-game losing streak to end the season and keep the Gamecocks at home during bowl season. The following season Vanderbilt won 24-17 in Nashville. Though Carolina has won the last two games, both were close. Carolina won 14-10 in 2009 and 21-7 in 2010. If Carolina doesn't show that killer instinct this week, it will be another close contest between the two.
MITCHELL: Put simply, Vanderbilt is typically a very fundamentally sound team. South Carolina hasn't always played like one. I think Vanderbilt's win over South Carolina in 2007 paved the way for more close games. That showed Vandy it could do it. And that confidence seems to have carried over into other games.
LOHD: I feel perception has a lot to do with it. USC sort of overlooks Vandy or does not see them as a legit threat. Not taking the opponent serious is what gets you in trouble and this is the reason in my view that the Vandy has been able to give USC fits. The Gamecocks cannot underestimate anyone at any time. Coach Spurrier's club needs to take care of business every snap.
LIFE: I'm not sure how they've done it since the talent level for Vanderbilt is not on par with South Carolina over the last few years. Maybe it's a lack of respect from the Gamecocks that's allowed Vanderbilt to come in and sneak a few wins the last few years. It could be a lack of killer instinct to put the game away. Last year is a perfect example. You had two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher and you only score 21 points? I believe we'll see a different team this weekend against Vanderbilt. I look for USC to make a statement early and come out strong.
Vanderbilt is fourth in the conference against the run. But South Carolina has some guy named Marcus Lattimore. How much harder will it be for Lattimore to find room Saturday night?
PORTER: Vanderbilt has proven to be tough on the run through the first three games, but I think it's safe to say that Elon, Connecticut, and Ole Miss doesn't have a running back like Marcus Lattimore. I feel it safe to assume that Vanderbilt won't be like Navy and sit in a two deep and let Lattimore run all over them. It will be much harder for Lattimore to find running room, but Vanderbilt won't keep Lattimore down. If they creep the safeties up and Garcia hits a few long play-action passes, the holes will be even bigger for Lattimore.
MITCHELL: It's going to be much harder for Lattimore to find room this week but sometimes you kind of get the feeling the guy is just going to get his yardage regardless. Lattimore probably won't have a ton of yardage early but he'll probably wear the defense down as the game goes on and finish with a big day - that seems to be the blueprint so far this season.
LOHD: The key to getting the running game going for USC in this game will be the passing attack led by Stephen Garcia. Vandy will stack the box and they are known for blitzing so USC has to counter with short passes or screens. Alshon Jeffery shoot get looks but I think this is a game where Ace Sanders and/or Nick Jones could shine. Also this game is a good one to put Bruce Ellington in for some Wildcat plays. Mixing it up will lead to Lattimore getting quality touches.
LIFE: Well running room is always tough to come by in SEC play but I don't think Vanderbilt has seen an offensive line or a running back quite like the ones the Gamecocks have right now. It may be a little bit harder to get running room but no different than what we've faced so far this year. Lattimore will get his carries in this one and I expect another 100-yard rushing performance. USC should have the size to open up holes and I don't think they can't stop Lattimore once he gets to the second level.
South Carolina moved DeVonte Holloman back to boundary safety and slid D.J. Swearinger to free safety last week and the returns were positive against the Navy rush attack. The coaches have stuck with that plan this week. Could this be the long-term solution to the problems back there?
PORTER: Holloman is too good of a player to be stuck behind Antonio Allen at Spur. Allen has shown he can play an entire game at Spur so Holloman's playing time was going to drop some. With Holloman at boundary with D.J. at free that provides a lot of physicality in the defensive backfield. I don't think it was the only problem in the secondary, but I certainly believe it's a step in the right direction.
MITCHELL: I'm not sure I'm sold yet. This grouping should work against running teams but may be exposed again when the passing teams pop up again down the road. Ellis Johnson knows his stuff and there was a reason the moves were made in the first place. If Brison Williams can get back healthy, I could see a move back and Jimmy Legree getting another chance as well. Antonio Allen is playing very well at SPUR but there are several packages that employ two SPURs and Damario Jeffery seems a better fit at Will LB.
LOHD: Hate to speculate on long-term as I feel it is dictated by who USC plays. Jimmy Legree will get better and Brison Williams may be back sooner rather than later. Having the ability to adjust to what the opponent is presenting is a smart move by Ellis Johnson and frankly, a luxury for USC. Right now it works and should work against Vandy.
LIFE: Holloman is definitely a more physical safety who's great in run support. I think he adds a toughness to that secondary when he's in the game and I think it will help solve the safety play for now. Holloman may not be perfect in pass coverage but he's good enough to hold his own back there. You put your best players on the field and Holloman is one of those guys. I think this is the right move for this football team.
PORTER: Carolina fans that keep predicting 30-point blowouts every week and start complaining because Carolina didn't blow the opponent out will be able to complain again this week. Outside of an average UConn team, Vanderbilt hasn't played anybody. Elon is an FCS opponent - and not a great one at that - and Ole Miss probably won't win a conference game this season. They haven't seen a running back like Lattimore and I think he will be the difference once again. Expect a close game with Carolina winning in the end, 24-14.
MITCHELL: I've learned my lesson about predicting blowouts. But I do have that feeling that this is the week USC puts it all together and moves to 4-0 for the first time in the Spurrier era. South Carolina wins 28-14.
LOHD: USC comes out with the "fire in the belly" and jumps all over Vandy. I feel the talk of a Vandy upset has struck a match under the team and they will take care of business early. USC will win this game by the score of 31-10.
LIFE: My score prediction for this one is South Carolina wins by a score of 31-14. I think the Gamecocks come out and make a statement early with Stephen Garcia and the passing game and then let Lattimore help build a comfortable lead before giving way to some backups in the 4th quarter. Defense will hold strong and put up their most solid performance overall and this will be a quality win for the Gamecocks.