USC game vital to VU bowl hopes

The math is simple. The Vanderbilt Commodores are 4–3 with four games remaining. They need two more wins to become bowl eligible. And with three road games remaining, including trips to Florida and Tennessee, time is running out.

"I want to go to a bowl, and (the players) want to go to a bowl," says Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. "But we aren't saying, ‘Let's hope that we just win two.' We want to win all four of them, and you have to start with the next game, which is South Carolina. That is the one we'll try to win first and that is the only one we'll worry about this week."

But considering Vanderbilt's epic struggles at both Florida (1–16–1 all-time in Gainesville) and Tennessee (14 straight losses at Neyland Stadium), there is no denying that the South Carolina game takes on added significance. "This game is really important," Johnson says. "You look at the four teams we have left to play and there are just not a lot of opportunities where you can say, ‘Oh, we've got this one.' We've got to work for it. I think everybody involved with our program knows that."

The players, like their coach, are not treating the trip to South Carolina as a make-or-break game. "Every game has to be approached the same," says junior fullback Steven Bright. "I feel like every game is a must win. I don't feel any more pressure going into this game. You have to have the same approach every week."

Linebacker Moses Osemwegie says: "We are trying to win every game. South Carolina just happens to be the next win. It start with them."

Vanderbilt will face a well-rested and confident South Carolina team that rolled past Kentucky 44–16 two weeks ago at Williams-Brice Stadium. Prior to that outburst, however, the Gamecocks had scored a total of 36 points in their previous three SEC games — losses to Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.

Steve Spurrier's arrival in Columbia has generated plenty of excitement but not much offense. The Gamecocks rank 94th in the nation in total offense (316.7 ypg) and have been especially ineffective running the football, averaging just 78.5 yards per game. Senior Daccus Turman (81 yards vs. UK) is the only Carolina running back who has rushed for more than 50 yards in an SEC game this season. Vanderbilt will do its best to make sure South Carolina continues to struggle on the ground.

"We always want to try to stop the run," Osemwegie says. "If you stop the run it helps the entire defense. Every team we have played so far has tried to run the ball and run the ball more. South Carolina will try to do the same thing to us."

But this is a Steve Spurrier coached team, so don't expect the Gamecocks to abandon the running game, even if it successful. With Blake Mitchell running the show (when healthy), South Carolina ranks third in the SEC in passing with 237.7 yards per game. As a team, USC leads the league with a 66.3 completion percentage.

"I think their quarterback is really going to be a good player," Johnson says of Mitchell, a first-year starter. "He's already done extremely well. He gets the ball to the open people. And they have excellent athletes."

Mitchell did not play in South Carolina's 48–7 loss at Auburn but returned to complete 23-of-34 for 277 yards in the win over Kentucky. The sophomore is 3–2 as a starter, including a 3–1 mark at Williams-Brice Stadium. As a team, South Carolina is 3–1 at home and 0–2 on the road.

Vanderbilt, on the hand, has been a better road team this season, with a 2–0 record away from home and a 2–3 mark in Nashville. "We need to get out of Nashville," nickel back Cheron Thompson says.

"We need to get on the road and get in a new environment."

Vanderbilt opened the season with a win at Wake Forest and followed that with a victory at Arkansas. "Winning on the road is a great feeling," Bright says. "It is a great feeling coming off the field with a win in somebody else's place. It is just great."


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