Key No. 1 - COMPLETE TEAM EFFORT
Too often during the 2015 season, we saw Vanderbilt play well in some phases of the game but break down in other phases. For instance, the defense played in a spectacular manner at Florida but the offense and special teams play were poor. Later, against Tennessee, the 'Dore offense managed 28 points but the defense and special teams struggled. The Commodores need to put together a complete effort on Thursday to win. The Dore offense, defense, and special teams need to be sound. No one area has to be world beaters if all three phases can be solid.
Key No. 2 - SHURMUR IS SOUND
In last season's opener against Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt struggled putting the ball into the end zone or through the goal posts. Vanderbilt also suffered two devastating turnovers deep in the red zone and missed a short field goal. Kyle Shurmur, Vandy's starting quarterback, doesn't need to be Joe Montana. He just needs to be himself and run the offense. If he can make wise choices and avoid being flustered he can help the Commodores to pull off a huge opening win over an SEC opponent. Shurmur has ability and football smarts to run the offense efficiently. He just needs to be poised and take it one play at a time.
Key No. 3 - DEFENSE DOMINATES
Last season Derek Mason's Black Death Defense raised some eyebrows with its amount of improvement over the 2014 Commodore unit that gave up over 30 points per game. Now, just before the 2016 season opener, some experts are calling Mason a "defensive wizard." Vanderbilt's defense should continue to be formidable and this will allow the 'Dores to have at least a chance to win every game, starting with Thursday night's contest. It will be interesting to see how the Commodore defense does with both Zach Cunningham and Nigel Bowden in the game.
This is the biggest game in years for Vanderbilt. A loss and most will write off the ‘Dores as a sure “also ran” for 2016 and Mason will feel his seat get warmer. A win and Vandy suddenly finds itself on top of the SEC and Mason and his team are on course for a bowl bid. There’s a lot of pressure there but the Commodores should just focus on winning each play and avoiding gifting the Gamecocks with freebies via fumbles, interceptions and special team’s breakdowns. The ‘Dores have the talent and coaching to be successful, they just have to put everything together and execute well.