Vandy Opponent Preview: at South Carolina

After an open week on the second Saturday in October the Commodores return to action on October 17 with a visit to South Carolina. This is the start of a stretch of seven games in seven weeks for the ‘Dores, with six of those being SEC contests. Getting this second half of the season underway with a good performance will be important.

2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC. Fifth in SEC East) – Beat Miami (FL) 24-21 in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

Series Record: South Carolina leads the series 20-4, with the first game taking place in Nashville back in 1961. The teams then didn’t play again until 1992, while Vanderbilt’s last victory was a 24-17 decision under Bobby Johnson in 2008.

Last Meeting: In what was one of the better performances by the ‘Dores in 2014 they pushed South Carolina all the way in a 48-34 loss. Vanderbilt actually was up 14-0 in the first quarter and made an outstanding game out of the contest despite starting the most freshmen in the country last fall.

Head Coach: It may be hard to believe, but this will be Steve Spurrier’s eleventh year in charge of South Carolina. In that time Spurrier has amassed a record of 84-4 (0.651) in Columbia. This record, in addition to his wins at Florida, gives Spurrier the second most SEC victories in history behind Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Spring News: Coming off of a down year by their recent standards there was an uncertain mood around the Gamecocks team this spring. With injuries and players yet to arrive on campus it was hard to get a feel for how this team will really look during the season. One thing that was noticeable was that the defense, which struggled mightily a year ago, has gone back to playing a simpler brand of football. This manifested itself into the unit playing faster and with more control that was seen in 2014.

Projected Strengths: The wide receivers will be good based almost entirely on the play of one man. Pharoh Cooper has done everything in his two years on campus so far, putting up over 1,100 yards receiving last fall. If Cooper can get more in the way of help from the talented young players around him (USC will have six redshirt/true freshmen receivers who graded at 4* out of high school) then this unit could explode.

South Carolina will also be good on the ground offensively in 2015. Senior Brandon Wiles gained five yards or more on almost half his carries last fall, along with catching three-quarters of the passes which were thrown his way. While he is not particularly explosive, this efficiency is needed. The explosiveness will come from dynamite sophomore David Williams and the one-two punch could prove to be very effective.

Projected Weaknesses: Coming out of spring ball the Gamecocks still had no idea who their quarterback would be this fall. When you play in a conference like the SEC, where you have to have good to great quarterback play to win, this is not a good thing. The favorite to get the nod on opening day is sophomore Connor Mitch who was a high school stats machine. The fact that he has not put distance between himself and challengers Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia though is troubling.

The defense was awful in 2014 and Spurrier hired an old coordinator friend in Jon Hoke to fix the problem. The defense will be shifting from a hybrid 4-2-5 to a 4-3 and the biggest impact will have to come in the form of a more dynamic defensive line. After finishing #118 in the nation in sacks (14) and #121 in tackles for a loss (52) last year, improvement must be swift. A line with no pressure in the SEC will lead to easy points for the opposition, as the Gamecocks found out all too often last year.

Prediction: This is going to be an interesting season for Spurrier and South Carolina. This team could easily finish anywhere from 8-4 to 5-7. This will be one of the few games on the schedule that the Gamecocks would expect to win, but if the quarterback situation fails to sort itself out then who knows how effective the offense will be. If Vanderbilt can find a way to keep this close into the fourth quarter on the road then anything can happen.

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