Preseason Preview: Vandy at South Carolina

This is the third installment of our breakdown of Vanderbilt Commodore football opponents throughout the 2013 campaign. Today we take an early look into the 'Dore's second SEC opponent of the season, South Carolina.

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 14; 7:00 p.m. EST

WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium (Columbia, S.C.)

LAST SEASON: 11-2 (6-2 SEC, 3rd place in SEC East; defeated Michigan 33-28 in Outback Bowl)

CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: consensus 7th

SERIES HISTORY: South Carolina leads, 18-4. (Last meeting: South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13 in opening game last season)

OFFENSE: South Carolina are an interesting animal entering 2013. There seems little doubt that they are going to be good, but the question as to how good is up in the air.

The first thing to note about the Gamecocks offensively is that they lose their leading rusher (Marcus Lattimore) and receiver (Ace Sanders) from last season. Though Sanders is clearly a big loss, it is the overall presence of Lattimore being out of the locker room which is going to hurt the Gamecocks the most. Though his last two seasons were cut short by devastating injuries he will go down as a legend in Columbia for his running style and his battles through adversity.

The new look Gamecock backfield will be much more likely to feature a platoon of runners than a single back like it did in Lattimore's heyday. Look for sophomore Mike Davis to be the man to garner most of the carries as his quickness shone through in spring practice and looks to be the best fit for the offense that South Carolina are going to run. On days where his quickness is not working however, don't be surprised to see the power of Brandon Wilds come to the forefront.

The biggest question mark coming into the season for South Carolina, on offense at least, is the quarterback position. Incumbent Connor Shaw has been the guy since midway through the 2011 season, but despite his ability to run with the ball he has never developed into the type of passer Steve Spurrier wants in his offense. The Gamecocks may well end up platooning quarterbacks throughout the season with Shaw also looking likely to play some wide receiver when junior Dylan Thompson steps in under center.

Conclusion: When looking at it on paper this offense has far too many questions for a team ranked so highly. History has shown that splitting time between quarterbacks will bite you at some point during the season, while the loss of Lattimore's overall presence around the team cannot be underestimated. In the corresponding fixture last year Vandy just got steamrolled on the ground. For Vandy to even think upset this year the defensive front has to have much more of an impact on the contest.

DEFENSE: The defensive story at South Carolina begins and ends with the best player in college football Jadeveon Clowney. Yes, the Gamecocks lose their top four tacklers from a year ago, but if history tells us anything about the SEC it is that the powerhouses find a way to reload on defense without missing a beat. Spurrier has a whole raft of options available to him with position battles like Kadetrix Marcus vs T.J. Gurley for the free safety spot highlighting how deep the talent pool actually is.

Clowney, however, is the Crown Jewel. A freakish athlete who will still be 20 years old when the season finishes. Clowney may be the only defensive player in the country capable of taking over a game on his own. Everyone has seen the hit against Michigan in the Outback Bowl played over and over again on ESPN because without that play, that ability to make something happen in the moment, then South Carolina doesn't win that game.

Conclusion: The defense is the reason that everyone loves the Gamecocks but there may be a slight risk that the hype around Clowney is propelling them to a level they cannot sustain. Any chance the 'Dores have of beating South Carolina will start with their ability to contain the future NFL star and to do this they will need to double team and chip him on every play. If he can be kept under control the Gamecocks are beatable.

Other Factors: Bruce Ellington is just as much of a threat on kickoff returns as he is in the open field as a receiver. He returned them for an average of just under 23 yards last season, and has a dynamic running style which makes him a threat to take one to the house at any point. As a result the special teams units will have to be on full alert and make sure they maintain their lanes on coverage.

Spurrier himself is obviously a huge factor too. The winningest coach at both Florida, and now South Carolina, he has all the wiliness and game experience in the world to go along with a roster which is brimming with next level talent. If he can make the quarterback issue work then the Gamecocks could be in for a special season.

Conclusion: The biggest blot on James Franklin's tenure so far at Vanderbilt is his inability to beat one of the conference big boys. The 'Dores have had chances, not least in this fixture last year, but for one reason or another victory has eluded them.

As good as South Carolina could be the two headed approach at quarterback is a massive issue and one that doesn't figure to be solved by the time week three comes around. The way the schedule breaks down it is worth noting that this game is the last one for eight weeks where the Gamecocks will be tested, a factor which may come into play one way or the other.

Bottom line. If Vandy can keep Clowney off of Carta-Samuels the 'Dores can win this game.

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