Vandy's Bobby Johnson returns to Columbia

On Saturday October 20, 2007, Head Coach Bobby Johnson and his Vanderbilt Commodores invade the Gamecocks' home turf looking for a big upset of the no. 6 ranked Gamecocks.

Bobby Johnson, a 1973 Clemson graduate, is a South Carolina native who also graduated from from Columbia's Eau Claire High School. He is in his sixth season as Head Coach of the Commodores.

The Gamecocks match against the Commodores (3-3) will be no cakewalk. Since 2006, the Commodores have won road games against three of the Southeastern Conference's toughest teams -Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia. The Commodores' 2006 win between the hedges at Georgia culminated in an apparently spontaneous Bobby Johnson dance (depicted below and captured on Youtube) before the 92,000 disenchanted Georgia fans.

Johnson, the old Clemson Tiger, would love to add a Vandy "twirl on the Gamecock logo" to his road-win dance repertoire.

The Gamecocks' spotty 2007 offense will face the third-best defense in the Southeastern Conference in the Vanderbilt Commodores. The offense will need to get well in a hurry after a sick, 62-yard second half effort against a relatively weak ACC team last Saturday.

The Commodores' defense gives up only 315 yards per game. By comparison, the Carolina defense, which has played great and has helped the Gamecocks win several games this season, gives up 331 yards per game and is ranked 6th in the SEC.

Like the Gamecock defense, Vanderbilt's pass defense is a source of strength for the Commodores, ranking third in the SEC. It gives up just 166 yards passing per game and is 11th nationally.

If the Commodore defense has shown any weakness, it might be against the run. The Commodores gave up over 200 yards on the ground in conference losses to Alabama and Auburn. However, they gave up only 54 yards on the ground to Ole Miss (in a win), and yielded just 167 to Georgia in a last second loss last Saturday.

From time to time this season, the Gamecocks have had difficulty establishing a rushing attack. The offensive line has just been unable to generate any consistent push, and opponents have sometimes been able to stuff the run with only six men in the box.

The Commodores have a strong defensive front that has looked very "stout" - according to Georgia's coach, Mark Richt - during the 2007 season. The Gamecocks' offensive linemen need to play an inspired game against a tough Commodore defensive front four, and hopefully will open some holes for Cory Boyd and Mike Davis. Otherwise, throwing into the teeth of that Commodore secondary will not be an easy task.

The effectiveness of the Commodore offense depends on its ability to generate yardage on the ground. Vanderbilt's offensive line has five seniors, and all are returning 2006 starters.

Chris Nickson (#3) is the Commodores starter between two rotating quarterbacks. Nickson is a Syvelle Newton look-a-like at quarterback, who has 880 career rushing yards and averages over four yards per carry. Nickson is a threat to pass, but his elusiveness and quickness while running are his most dangerous qualities.

When Nickson is playing, the Commodore coaches will often call the read option play from the shotgun so Nickson can scramble for rushing yardage. The read option play has tormented the Gamecocks' defense all season, beginning in the opener against the University of Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns.

The read option is a simple play, built around one read. The diagram above shows the design for a read option left. The way it works is that the quarterback, who has the option to run or handoff, watches the first defender to the left of the left tackle's outside shoulder. If the defensive player attacks the quarterback, the quarterback just hands off to the back going the other way. If the defender drops into coverage or moves to tackle the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs it. The play can be run to either direction and there are variations of the play such as when the quarterback also has a second option to pass to a wide receiver on a hook pattern.

Vanderbilt loves the read option play. The Gamecock defense has been vulnerable to it at times during the season, and the Commodore coaches will not have missed that fact when they review game film. Gamecock fans should expect to see Vanderbilt try the read option play several times during the course of the game. It will be interesting to watch and see how Coach Tyrone Nix schemes up the defense to stop that play. If the Gamecock defense has trouble stopping the read option, you can bet it will see the play repeatedly.

Nickson's playing time has decreased due to interceptions and errant passes. He threw four interceptions in Vanderbilt's win against Mid-American Conference opponent, Eastern Michigan. Since then, Vanderbilt coaches have given more game time to their second quarterback, Mackenzi Adams (#9).

Adams was voted the Commodore offensive player of the week against Georgia. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown and appears to be the more effective passer. However, Adams is also a capable runner who rushed for 46 yards on 14 carries against Georgia, despite the negative yards associated with his three sacks.

Anytime you are defending against the Commodore offense, you need to account for their great receivers, including the fantastic Earl Bennett (#10). Wide receiver Bennett was named First Team All-Southeastern Conference by the coaches for the second consecutive season.

Bennett is so good that Vanderbilt is promoting him for the Heisman Trophy. Vanderbilt established an individual web site for Bennett called "My Name is Earl Bennett." The Bennett web site tracks his career receptions as he chases down the SEC record, 208. Currently, Bennett has 205 receptions on his career. The last time Bennett visited Columbia, in 2005, he had an amazing 16 receptions. In all probability, he will set a new SEC receiving record against the Gamecocks' secondary.

Another great Commodore player of interest to South Carolina fans is D.J. Moore (17), a 5-10 175 pound sophomore. Moore graduated from Broome High School where he was a great football player. Moore shone in the 2005 Shrine Bowl game where he made five catches and scored a touchdown.

Moore is an exciting all-around player for the Commodores and plays on offense, defense and special teams. Against Georgia, he got into the offensive game plan and rushed twice for 48 yards. On defense, he accumulated eight tackles from his cornerback position. Finally, he was dangerous on special teams, returning four kickoffs for 75 yards.

The Vanderbilt coaches are going to have their team totally fired up against the Gamecocks. Six of the Vanderbilt coaches (Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell, Ted Cain, Bruce Fowler, Kenny Carter, and Jimmy Kiser) have South Carolina connections and have lived in the shadow of the Gamecocks for much of their careers. The Gamecocks have beaten the Commodores seven straight games. You can bet those Commodore coaches, most of whom were on Vanderbilt's staff for six of the seven losses, are frustrated and ache to finally beat the Gamecocks. If that happens, they will join Bobby Johnson in another big, exuberant Commodore sideline celebration, this time on the Williams Brice turf.

That cannot happen. We must protect this house.

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