The Vanderbilt Commodores open the 2012 season on Thursday night against South Carolina. VandyMania.com compares different critical team areas of Vanderbilt and South Carolina and indicates which team has the edge. We also predict the final score.
Vanderbilt rushing offense
South Carolina rushing defense
EDGE: South Carolina
South Carolina boasts one of the toughest defensive lines not only in the SEC but also nationally. Last season the Gamecocks' defensive line stifled Vandy's rushing attack and made it easy for the USC secondary well cover Vanderbilt receivers. The 6-foot-8, 267 pound Jadeveon Clowney
was a 5-star, No. 1 ranked defensive end prospect when he was a high school star a couple years ago. Clowney more than lived up to that billing while making 8 sacks and 12 tackles for losses as a true freshman. Fellow defensive end, Devin Taylor
, is not as highly touted at Clowney but he's good enough to be on the coaches' 2nd team All-SEC team (Clowney is on the 1st team). Vanderbilt hopes that an offensive line that returns four of five starters including veterans Wesley Johnson
and Ryan Seymour
will be able to keep Clowney and company under control better than they did in 2011 in Columbia. Vanderbilt will also have some new glitches in their running attack. Vandy's Zac Stacy
, a thousand yard rusher, will be complimented with the returning tailback Warren Norman-- who was injured and missed last season-- and freshman speedster Brian Kimbrow
Vanderbilt passing offense
South Carolina passing defense
As mentioned earlier, Vanderbilt returns most of its offensive line. The Commodores also return quarterback Jordan Rodgers
who averaged over 30 points a game as the starting Vandy quarterback a year ago. Rodgers, who passed for over 1,500 yards, also gained 420 yards rushing which helped keep defenses honest. While Rodgers' completion percentage was just 50 percent, his completed passes were often for more significant gains than previous recent starting Vandy QBs. Rodgers top targets are back as well. Jordan Matthews
, who caught 41 passes a year ago, has looked terrific in practice. Chris Boyd
(31 rec.) and Jonathan Krause
(22 rec.) are both key targets for Rodgers. Safety D.J. Swearinger
is South Carolina's top secondary player. Swearinger, who had 80 tackles and 3 interceptions a year ago, was voted by the coaches to the 2nd team All-SEC preseason squad. Another preseason All-SEC player for the Gamecocks, cornerback Akeem Auguste
, is out indefinitely due to an injury. It should be noted that both USC starting cornerbacks from a year ago have graduated. If the Vandy line can give Rodgers some semblance of passing time Vandy should be able to gain some yardage through the air and that'll open up opportunities for Stacy.
South Carolina rushing offense
Vanderbilt rushing defense
Everyone knows about All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore
, however, against Vandy last year Lattimore didn't have one of his better games (77 yards rushing) but he got the hard yards when the 'Cocks needed them. Preseason All-SEC center T.J. Johnson
(6-6, 319) headlines a steady USC offensive line which also returns guard A.J. Cann
(6-4, 309) and tackle Mike Matulis
(6-5, 274). Vandy has lost reliable middle linebacker 4-year starter Chris Marve
to graduation and will rely on junior Chase Garnham
to fill the void. Defensive tackle Rob Lohr
headlines a very good VU defensive line which may get even better with the addition of a freshman defensive end named Caleb Azubike
South Carolina passing offense
Vanderbilt passing defense
South Carolina junior Connor Shaw
brought some consistency and accuracy to the Gamecock offense last year. Shaw completed over 65 percent of his passes last season for over 1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions. However, Garcia's top target, big wide receiver Alshon Jeffery
is gone. South Carolina's No. 2 wide receiver returns in Ace Sanders
who had 29 catches a year ago for two scores. Lattimore, who had 19 catches a year ago, is the second leading returning receiver. Vanderbilt will be missing Casey Hayward
and Sean Richardson
but because the depth of the VU secondary the Commodores should be fine. Vanderbilt's secondary is led by cornerback Trey Wilson
who has 14 career starts. Last season Wilson intercepted three passes while breaking up 11. Two of Wilson's picks were returned for touchdowns. Safeties Kenny Ladler
and Javon Marshall
have 23 combined starts. Cornerback Andre Hal
has seen action in 25 games but has only two starts. Outside linebacker Karl Butler
occupies the new "star" position which is a combination linebacker/defensive back position. Butler has 30 tackles, and interception and passes broken up over his career. Rob Lohr, who had five sacks a year ago, is Vandy's top returning sack man.
Vanderbilt's Ryan Fowler
made 4-of-7 field goals in 2011 with his longest gong for 35 yards. Richard Kent
punted for a 42.5 yard average and had a long punt of 67 yards. South Carolina senior kicker Adam Yates
has yet to attempt a field goal in a college game. The Gamecocks will use one of two sophomores for a punter. Both Tyler Hull
and Patrick Fish
have yet to punt in a college game. Return man Ace Sanders returned 16 punts for a 9.3 average last season and took one 68-yards for a touchdown. Vandy's Jonathan Krause had 19 punt returns for a 4.1 yard average.
EDGE: South Carolina
The energetic James Franklin
took Vanderbilt to a bowl in his first season as head coach, something no other Commodore coach has ever done. If he leads the Commodores to a bowl in 2012 he'll be the first Commodore coach to take Vandy teams to back-to-back bowls. Steve Spurrier
has won everywhere he's coached at the college level. Spurrier led Florida
to a National Championship and now has led South Carolina to its best season ever. He also led Duke
to an ACC Championship in 1989.
Both teams will be competing in their 2012 openers after memorable 2011 campaigns for both programs. Vanderbilt's experienced its highest season ticket sales in years. The Thursday night kickoff along with the brisk season ticket sales means that this will be an SEC game where the Commodores actually have a home field advantage. Add in the fact that the Gamecocks dominated the 2011 pre-Jordan Rodgers ran Vanderbilt offense and you have the makings of a over confident USC team coupled with a Vandy squad hell bent on making a better showing this season.
Vanderbilt 34, South Carolina 27.
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