Scouting Report: South Carolina

The Vanderbilt Commodores host the South Carolina Gamecocks in what might be the biggest stage the 'Dores have seen since '08 when College GameDay came to town. The Gamecocks were picked to finish second in the SEC East after finishing with a school best 6-2 SEC record and going undefeated in the East a year ago.

The matchup is the first NCAA Division I game of the season and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Vanderbilt will make an announcement at halftime regarding its $31 million indoor multi-purpose facility.

Less than a year ago the Gamecock defensive line dominated the 'Dores, keeping them to just 77 yards and a field goal. Vandy forced four Stephen Garcia interceptions but were unable to capitalize. Commodore turnovers and disruption caused by a trio of South Carolina defensive ends made it a painful day for the Vandy offense. Melvin Ingram -- who tallied two sacks, three tackles for loss, and recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown -- is now gone but the Gamecock line should not skip a beat. Jadeveon Clowney had pairs of sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles for loss against the 'Dores as a true freshman and will be back demanding attention. Opposite Clowney is a 6-foot-8, 267 pound monster with 32 starts under his belt -- Devin Taylor. Even with Ingram gone the South Carolina defensive line will be the scariest part of its defense. In between the ends will be 6-1, 316 pound senior Byron Jerideau and sophomore defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles who started the final six games of his freshman season.

A big question will be how the Gamecocks will respond to the departure of defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Ellis Johnson. In four years with Johnson in charge of the defense, South Carolina ranked 3rd, 46th, 15th, and 13th in total defense; an increase from 56th and 63rd in the two years prior to his arrival.

Strong safety D.J. Swearinger returns after starting all 13 games a year ago. The senior was second on the team with 80 tackles and three interceptions. South Carolina's secondary will have to replace both corners including Stephon Gilmore, who started all 40 games for the Gamecocks and was drafted 10th by the Bills. Akeem Auguste was holding down one corner position until a right leg injury sidelined him for a month. The senior started ten games in 2010 at free safety and finished sixth on the team with 58 tackles. Redshirt sophomore Victor Hampton will fill at cornerback for the ailing senior Auguste and may also return kickoffs. Junior Jimmy Legree's two starts at free safety in 2011 make him the only other Gamecock cornerback with starting experience.

Devonte Holloman was switched from safety to the spur position and will be tasked with playing the hybrid strong safety/linebacker position in the 4-2-5 defense. Senior linebacker Reginald Bowens won the middle linebacker position in camp after starting eight games in 2011 with 44 tackles. Shaq Wilson also started eight games in 2011 and competed with Bowens for middle linebacker. The senior was moved to weakside linebacker after Bowens' impressive camp.

Head coach Spurrier has mentioned trying out some four defensive end sets, presumably in passing situations. The old ball coach has also talked about using Clowney all over the field, including middle linebacker with an emphasis of getting him one-on-one situations.

On the offensive side the Gamecocks return seven offensive starters including running back Marcus Lattimore who had ten TDs and 818 yards before a knee injury took him out for the season. Everyone inside the South Carolina organization has stated that Lattimore will be 100 percent ready to go against the 'Dores. It seems unlikely Spurrier will put a full workload on the junior in the opener with senior Kenny Miles, who led the team in rushing in 2009, behind him. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson fought for the number three running back spot but Wilds is nursing an ankle injury and Carson recently required surgery that put him out for the season. By injury the number three running back position will fall to true freshman Mike Davis who ran for 1,923 yards and 21 TDs as a senior in high school and was rated one of the top players in the state of Georgia.

Sophomore Mike Matulis started five games a year ago and is back at the tackle spot. At guard redshirt sophomore A.J. Cann started all 13 games a year ago at left guard returns. At center senior T.J. Johnson has started 40 games over three years for the Gamecocks and will no doubt be the leader on the otherwise young front line. Redshirt sophomore Cody Gibson started four games at right tackle will see time at the tackle spot.

Signal caller Connor Shaw returns after replacing Stephen Garcia midway through the season and leading the Gamecocks to an 8-1 record and a Capital One Bowl win. The junior has been working hard in the offseason to develop his skills as a pocket passer. Much like Vandy's Jordan Rodgers, Shaw can make plays with his feet; in 2011 he ran for 525 yards and eight TDs. Shaw completed 65.4 percent of his passes in 2011 for 1,448 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Alshon Jeffery led the Gamecock receivers with 49 catches for 762 yards and eight touchdowns but now catches passes from Jay Cutler on the Bears. With Jeffery gone South Carolina will look to Ace Sanders, the leading returning receiver with 29 catches for 383 yards and two scores, to make great improvements in 2012. Behind Sanders is sophomore two sport athlete Bruce Ellington who returns kicks and plays point guard for the Gamecocks. After Ellington and Sanders not one returning Gamecock eclipsed the 200-yard mark. D.L. Moore has the largest frame of the receiving bunch and looks to increase his eight catches from a year ago but is off to a bad start after suffering a groin pull a week before game day. Junior DeAngelo Smith is listed as the other probable starter and South Carolina's most recent Mr. Football winner Shaq Roland is expected to contribute. Sophomore Nick Jones started two games a year ago with 143 yards and a touchdown and redshirt freshman K.J. Brent may see increased time as well.

Much like the quarterback and tailback positions, the Gamecocks should be very solid at tight end with Rory Anderson showing an extraordinary ability to make big plays and Justice Cunningham being an exceptional blocker--starting eight games last year-- with 18 catches and a TD.

For place kicking duties senior Adam Yates looks to be the starter with experience handling kickoff duties in 2009. Coach Spurrier has mentioned junior college, walk-on transfer Tyler Hull will likely be the Gamecock punter this season.

This will be the 22nd meeting between the schools with South Carolina leading the series 4-17. The last time Vandy beat the 'Cocks was 2008 when South Carolina was ranked 24th and the Commodores went on to win their first five games and the Music City Bowl. Top Stories