Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. USC

This is the 16th meeting between the two schools. South Carolina has owned this series, winning 13 of the previous 15 contests. They played for the first time in 1961 with USC prevailing 23-7. Since 1992, these teams have met every season. After South Carolina won six consecutive games from 1992 through 1997, Vanderbilt finally won in Nashville in 1998 by a score of 17-14.

Vanderbilt Vs. USC

Game 8

Saturday, 21-October-2006—2:00 PM CDT


Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio


TV: Pay per View in South Carolina, and in parts of Tennessee


ESPN Gameplan for those who live outside the pay-for-view area


Weather Forecast: Mostly Sunny with only a 10% chance of rain and temperatures in the low 70's.





This is the 16th meeting between the two schools.  South Carolina has owned this series, winning 13 of the previous 15 contests.  They played for the first time in 1961 with USC prevailing 23-7.  Since 1992, these teams have met every season.  After South Carolina won six consecutive games from 1992 through 1997, Vanderbilt finally won in Nashville in 1998 by a score of 17-14.  A year later, the Commodores won in Columbia by a score of 11-10.  It must be noted that the Gamecocks won only one game in 1998 and no games in 1999.


Since 2000, South Carolina has dominated this series, winning six in a row by an average score of 33-17.


Last year in Columbia, the Gamecocks won 35-28 thanks to the heroics of quarterback Blake Mitchell and receiver Sidney Rice who caught eight passes for 132 yards.  This combination hooked up for three touchdowns, including the game winner late in the final period.  A desperate comeback attempt by Vanderbilt fell short when Jay Cutler threw incomplete on 4th and 10 at the Gamecock 30-yard line. 


Cutler ended the game completing 27 of 49 passes for 339 yards and a touchdown.  The Commodores failed to move the ball on the ground all afternoon, picking up just 41 yards on 34 carries.  Earl Bennett emerged as a true star in this game when he caught 16 passes for 204 yards including a 41-yarder for a score.



The Matchups


Vanderbilt 1-3 in the SEC, 3-4 Overall

South Carolina 2-2 in the SEC, 4-2 overall



When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball


If Vanderbilt is going to win this game, they will have to control the ball on the ground.  Run defense is not one of South Carolina's strong suits.  The Commodores will need an effort similar to the one's they put forth against Arkansas and Ole Miss (without the fumbles). 


Georgia limited the number of big plays by the Vandy ground game, but Carolina should be vulnerable.  Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jared Hawkins should get the opportunity to hit the occasional hole with room to run.  Downfield blocking by Marlon White and Steven Bright could be the key to having a breakaway that goes the distance.


Chris Nickson needs to use his exceptional intellect and quick feet to outsmart and outrun the Gamecock linebackers.  He will have the opportunity to scramble for 50-100 yards in this game if he picks his spots correctly.  USC can be exploited by showing pass and then running outside the guards if just one blocker walls off Gamecock middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.


Vanderbilt should run the ball 35 times for more than 150 yards in this game.  If they can finish with 38 carries for 180+ yards, it should be a happy afternoon for the homecoming crowd.


When Carolina Runs The Ball


The Gamecocks run the ball a little more than they pass it this year.  Cory Boyd emerged as a potential star against Kentucky two weeks ago when he rushed for 113 yards on 25 carries.  In that game Boyd and quarterback Syvelle Newton were the only players to carry the pigskin. 


South Carolina is similar to Vanderbilt in that their quarterback is just as big a threat to take off and run as our quarterback is.  Newton runs more like a split end in the open field than a quarterback trying to avoid pulverization.  Newton averages well over six yards per carry when you factor out sacks and quarterback kneel downs. 


The one positive for Vanderbilt's run defense is they see this same offense, or something quite similar, in practice every day; the scout team should have given the defense a good sampling this week of what South Carolina will do Saturday.  Of course, that works both ways, as Carolina's defense will benefit as well.  Look for Carolina to run the ball about 32 times for 130 yards.  If they get to 150 rushing yards in this game, it will probably be curtains for the Gold Men.


When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball


The black and gold need to run to set up the pass this week.  South Carolina's secondary is tough; they hold opponents to almost 15% lower pass completion percentage than an average secondary.  That equates to about four fewer pass completions per game and 50 less yards gained.


Vanderbilt needs to pick their spots and try to stretch the field vertically to open up more running lanes.  Nickson needs to go deep (20+ yard patterns) toward Earl Bennett, Sean Walker, and Marlon White at least three times and hopefully five times in this game.  One 50-yard pass completion in the first half could open the floodgates for the running game to close the deal.  The short passing game may not get it done this week, and without some intermediate passes, the Gamecocks could shut down the ground game as well.


Look for Vanderbilt to pass the ball 25 times and complete 12.  If that produces 175+ yards (7+ yards per attempt), then Vandy will win this game because they will average close to five yards per running play because of it.  If the stats look more like 14 of 25 for 135 yards, then the running game will be shut down because the secondary will be able to easily contain and back up the front seven.


When Carolina Throws The Ball


Newton is improving every week.  With Spurrier's tutelage, that is to be expected.  Vanderbilt's pass defense was exploited last week by Matthew Stafford.  You better believe that Spurrier has figured out what to do to rip the Commodore secondary to shreds.  The one fly in his ointment should be a competent Vandy pass rush that disrupts Newton's rhythm to some extent.  The key to beating a Spurrier offense is to get to the quarterback, especially on five receiver plays.


Stopping both Rice and Kenny McKinley is something the black and gold secondary probably cannot do, so the key to winning this battle is to defeat South Carolina's mediocre offensive line.  Vandy needs to dump Newton for a five yard loss at least twice and force him to hurry one quarter of his pass attempts.  If Newton gets enough time, he can pick the Commodores apart. 


If Carolina's passing stats look like 15 of 28 for 160 yards, Vanderbilt can win the game.  If, on the other hand, Newton goes 18 of 28 for 225 yards, then the Vandy coeds are going to be in tears around 5 PM Saturday.


Special Teams Play


South Carolina has an exceptional all-purpose kicker in Ryan Succop.  He punts the ball high and consistently well, meaning opponents have little chance of hurting the Gamecocks with punt returns.  In an exchange of punts, USC will be 5-10 yards better off than they were prior to the punts.


Succop is deadly accurate as a place kicker and his kickoffs frequently make it to the end zone.


The Gamecock return game is nothing to get excited about; as long as they don't fumble the ball, that will be adequate for Spurrier.


Vanderbilt continues to be the absolute best kickoff coverage team in the conference and one of the best in the nation.  More than likely, the Gamecocks will receive the opening kickoff (Spurrier wants to receive when his team wins the coin toss, while Vandy usually defers when they win it).  This opening kickoff needs to be a statement.  Bryant Hahnfeldt needs to kick the ball high to the USC two yard line, and then assassin Chris Johnson and his band of co-conspirators need to close the deal with a gang tackle around the 16.


Hahnfeldt came through with the big field goal last week.  He should be more than ready to repeat the feat with his feet if called on to do it again.  There's a better than average chance he could get that opportunity. 


The Predictions


PiRate: South Carolina 21  Vanderbilt 20


Vanderbuilder's Guess: South Carolina 24  Vanderbilt 17


Average of 42 Computer Rankings: Gamecocks by 2 points.  33 of 42 computers pick South Carolina to win the game.  The range is quite narrow for this contest.  Most of the computers believe the Gamecocks will win by three or fewer points.  Normal standard deviation for these 42 computer rankings is about 5 to 6, but the small standard deviation of the statistical sample is just 2.75.  This lends credence to the belief that this will be a rather close ball game.



Summary:  Can the Commodores continue to play near their peak every game without a bye week, with injuries piling up, and with tough SEC games back-to-back-to-back?  You have to figure they are due for an off game, especially after playing so well last week.  Even Ohio State will fail to bring their A-game every week.  It' only natural, even if the players are all giving their maximum effort.


South Carolina had a week off prior to this game, and Steve Spurrier has had two weeks to prepare for the contest.  That's just a little too much to overcome.  The Gamecocks are not any better than the Commodores right now, but they have the most important advantage in this game—rest.  Look for South Carolina to win by a touchdown or less in a hard-fought game.  The deciding score could come late in the game, as Vandy begins to show signs of fatigue for the first time this season.  Of course, it would be just fine and dandy if South Carolina committed some early turnovers that led to cheap scores for the Commodores and an easy win to get to 4-4 and become a bubble bowl team.


Here's what to keep your eyes on this week: every time USC and Vandy have a 3rd down and more than five yards to go, it will be one of the deciding plays of the game.  Keep a running count of which team succeeds in getting first downs on the 3rd down and six to 10 yards to go.  The winner of this battle should be the team that prevails.  If this statistic is one-sided early in the game, yet the score is close, you might know eventually where the final score is headed.

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