Five Keys to Victory Against Vanderbilt

Read inside as's Wes Mitchell takes a look at South Carolina's five keys to victory in Thursday night's SEC season opener against Vanderbilt.

1. Be Smart on the Offensive line

The USC offensive line's seven sacks and five false start penalties against Vanderbilt last season was the line's worst showing of the entire Spurrier era. That line may not have been the best in the conference, but physically they should have been able to hold the Vanderbilt front seven in check. The majority of the Commodores' success came from a zone blitzing scheme that both confused the USC line and had them on edge all game. This killed numerous once-promising South Carolina drives and put the offense behind the eight ball all game.

Along the same lines, Steve Spurrier also announced this week that he is tired of having offensive linemen jump offsides and that it is an embarrassment to him. Spurrier has vowed to have the back-ups ready if someone jumps, and says that player will be immediately removed from the game. It's no coincidence that Spurrier decided to come up with this rule this week after the line's putrid showing last year. If the O-line that showed up in Williams-Brice Stadium last year shows up in Nashville then you can forget about the Gamecocks going home with the victory. If the line shows signs of gelling and looks close to the way it looked late against N.C. State, then the Gamecock offense should be able to move the football.

2. Contain Nickson

Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson started his senior season with a bang, rushing for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns on his way to being named SEC Offensive Player of the Week. South Carolina struggled mightily with quarterbacks who could run last season, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will get his first chance to show he has improved the Gamecocks' defense in that area. While normally it's bad if a member of a team's secondary has the most tackles, according to Johnson his system tends to funnel runners towards the safeties that are playing in the box. This could lead to a big day for Spur linebacker/safety Darian Stewart and safety Emanuel Cook. If you hear those guys' names called then it could actually be a good thing.

USC will likely roll Cook into the box and create a 4-4 type look and dare Nickson to get to the outside or throw over the top. In theory Stewart and Cook will be too fast to let Nickson outside while Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley will clog up the middle. While Nickson can be effective in the passing game against an off-balanced defense, if he is forced to try and win the game with his arm alone that should be considered a huge positive for the Gamecocks.

3. Set the tone

The Gamecocks seem to have developed a nasty habit of starting off games on a negative note, and that didn't change in last Thursday's bout with N.C. State as the first drive ended in an interception. The Gamecocks got off to a bad start in last season's Vandy game as the Commodores raced off to a 17-0 first quarter lead and that set the tone for the entire game. Make no mistake the Commodores believe they will beat the Gamecocks for the second year in a row, and will continue believing that until South Carolina gives them a reason not to. Pay close attention in the first five minutes, because whichever team comes out and establishes its will early and controls the pace of the game has a very good chance of coming out victorious.

4. Establish the run

In last year's game the Gamecocks rushed for 26 net yards and averaged just 1.2 yards a carry. Obviously, that won't cut it this year. Senior Mike Davis started his season on the right foot last week with a 101-yard effort and he will get every chance to do it again tonight. After getting impatient in last year's game and abandoning the run early, look for Spurrier to try and keep things as balanced as possible. That balance will be the key to keeping the Vanderbilt defense off balance and defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler from dialing up all those blitzes.

As much as Spurrier is known for his passing game, his offense is at its very best when the running game is there to help take some pressure off the passing game.

5. Limit the turnovers

While this could be a key to victory every week, it is especially important after USC's four-turnover game last week and 17-6 loss to Vandy last year. The Gamecocks have the athletes and coaching staff to defeat the Commodores handily, but can't afford to give Vandy extra opportunities or they will leave with a loss.

South Carolina will likely spread the field and attack the Vandy defense with short, low-risk passes to decrease the chance of turnovers. Starter Chris Smelley was extremely efficient in a 5-for-5 effort off the bench Thursday and will have to continue to command the offense like that for the Gamecocks to be successful.

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