VandyMania: Russ, is it possible that South Carolina could be looking a little bit past this first game against Vanderbilt and looking ahead to the Georgia game the following week, or is that just wishful thinking on our part?
Russ Perry: Well, I'd say teams that go 5-7 two years in a row shouldn't look past anyone. And with Lou Holtz especially, who's known as the Master Poor-Mouther-- he's presented Vanderbilt to his Gamecock team as a team that might win the SEC championship. You should hear him preach about all their returning starters, and all their depth and talent... the best offensive line he's ever seen, the best running backs he's ever seen... the second-best quarterback in the league behind David Greene.
No, I've been around the players and the coaches this week enough to know that this team is not going to overlook Vanderbilt. One thing that might be South Carolina's saving grace-- one thing that I think is going to prevent South Carolina from overlooking Vanderbilt-- is the fact that this is an SEC opener, and that it's on the road. If this were a younger football team, a less experienced team, it would worry me. But they know Vanderbilt has a very good team, and to have to play them at Vanderbilt will be difficult. They respect Jay Cutler, and they respect Bobby Johnson.
The other thing about Coach Holtz's team this year is that they're going to take it one game at a time. They won't overlook Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is a team to be respected.
VM: Could you talk about the fact that South Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, and about the fact that from what we're hearing Coach Holtz has pretty much revamped his offense as well? What should Vanderbilt fans expect to see? Has any word gotten out of camp about some of the changes that they will see offensively and defensively?
Russ Perry: Regarding the new defensive coordinator, Rick Minter, and the new wide receivers coach, Rick Stockstill, they may have been the two most important recruits last spring. Minter is the former head coach at Cincinnati, and in the five years he was there, he did not have bad defensive football teams. His problem there was that they couldn't get their offense going against the Ohio States and Michigans. They played fine defensively and played some of those schools very close. He's brought a philosophy of super-aggressive defensive play with him down here to South Carolina.
Last year South Carolina lost three games to Top 25 teams by a total of 7 points. They lost by 2 points to Florida, by 2 points to Ole Miss at Ole Miss, and they lost a 3-point overtime game to Tennessee. Otherwise, that team is 8-4 last year and probably in the Outback Bowl. But they were young last year. We really credit those three losses to the ineptitude of the defense. They were probably overtaxed mentally as well as physically last year. Chris Cosh, the defensive coordinator last year, was a defensive genius, but he had a hard time coaching the team. He coached a little over their heads.
Minter has really connected with these players, and they are enjoying themselves. There's no more having to stop and guess what's going to transpire. They're just being asked to react to the ball instinctively. You're going to see that most of the starters on the defensive line, as well as the offensive line, are juniors and seniors. Rick Minter will have one of the more talented defensive lines South Carolina has had there.
But the secondary is where we return no starters. South Carolina has put more defensive backs in the NFL in the last five years than any other team in the country-- nine or ten, depending on opening-day rosters-- and several first-round draft picks, including Dunta Robinson last year. When you have that many secondary guys going every year to the NFL, you're going to look like you're depleted.
But South Carolina has recruited very well there. Johnathan Joseph, Tremaine Tyler and Fred Bennett are three young guys, but incredibly talented, fast, big cornerbacks. And at safety you've got a couple of seniors who could play in the NFL next year in Jamacia Jackson and Jermaine Harris (Franco Harris' nephew)-- and a true freshmen in Ko Simpson at free safety who was here for spring practice and set the world on fire. So while the secondary is very young, they are very talented... but we're not sure at all what we've got in the secondary. Vanderbilt should be a great proving ground for them.
Russ Perry: Yes, I think Syvelle will play some. Bobby Johnson said the other day that he expected Syvelle to play. Bobby's known Syvelle for a long time, had him in camps over at Furman. But Dondrial will start. He's a fifth-year senior. Talent-wise, he's fine. His only problem has been reading the defenses in the past, and they think they've gotten that worked out over the summer. This is only his second year to start. He started all last year, and like I say, he was only 8 points away from being a bowl quarterback. He's a running quarterback who can throw the football... that's the best way to put it. I think a lot of the problem last year with his confidence was that he had receivers who dropped the ball. I think Rick Stockstill, the new wide receivers coach, has worked hard to get the receivers to hold onto the football. He has a history of doing just that.
I think South Carolina should be able to run the ball against Vandy, but it's all going to be predicated on their ability to throw the ball. If South Carolina can't throw the ball, Vandy may be able to stack eight men in the box, which would make it very challenging for South Carolina to try to establish the rushing game.
Demetris Summers and Daccus Turman are two fine backs. You said you thought Summers might be one of the best backs in the SEC this year, and we certainly agree. He's incredibly talented. But we've got ourselves a couple of other running backs you're going to hear a lot about, and that's Cory Boyd (6-1, 210, soph.), a big, physical running back, and Gonzie Gray (5-11, 186), a fifth-year senior. So you're going to see four backs in that backfield, and they are all physical, brutal ball carriers. They're not afraid to get in there and really put their heads down and pick up the tough yards.
Russ Perry covers South Carolina football for NewsRadio 560 WVOC-AM in Columbia, S.C., and is a contributing writer and publisher for GamecockInsider.com.
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