Nik's Commodore Keys: South Carolina

After thrashing Miami (OH) last week in Oxford, Vanderbilt plays South Carolina in the newly renovated Vanderbilt Stadium in front of an ESPN Thursday night prime-time national audience. The Commodores won't have an easy task beating the gamecocks, who were 34-0 winners over N.C. State, but certain things must happen for the Dores to sprint out of the gates 2-0.

Passing Game

For Vanderbilt to beat South Carolina, Chris Nickson is going to have to pass the ball well. Last week, Nickson looked very confident and very comfortable leading the Commodore offense, but most of his yards came on the ground. Nickson only threw for 91 yards with one touchdown. However, Nickson looked good on the occasions that he did actually throw the ball. After watching South Carolina's front seven smother the Wolfpack of N.C. State last week, Vandy's running game will need help from the passing game to do well offensively. Nickson will need to show the Gamecocks that he can pass the ball; this should help spread the defense out, and allow Gaston Miller or Jared Hawkins to sneak through the hole for some big yardage. The O-line will also need to perform. Following an outing at Miami that showed plenty of small errors, Vandy will need to correct those to give Nickson time to throw, as well as provide holes for the running game. This game will be a true test to this line full of 5 new starters.

Stuff ‘Em

Another facet of the game that the Commodores must be successful in is stuffing the run. South Carolina has a quarterback controversy after starter Tommy Beecher threw 4 interceptions last week before being replaced by Chris Smelley. In the first outing of his career, redshirt freshman Chris Marve proved vital to the Vandy defense both in stuffing Miami's quarterback and their running game. He will need to do the same thing this week. Vanderbilt needs to force South Carolina to pass, which they have had trouble with last year and the start of this year. The defensive line will also be key to stopping South Carolina's running game, which accounted for 171 yards of offense last week.

Special Teams must be special

For Vandy to win this game, their special teams must be solid, unlike many previous games where special teams lost the game for the Dores. Kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt was solid last week converting 2 /2 field goals from 42 and 32 yards, respectively. Brett Upson was a solid punter averaging 40.2 yards per punt over 4 punts. On the return game, D.J. Moore had a 91 yard punt return, and the kickoff returns were solid as well. Punt coverage was excellent, as the Commodores outgained Miami on punt return yards 120 to 9. Vandy needs to work on kickoff return coverage. Although there were no huge returns by Miami, the coverage scared Commodore fans a little bit. In a tight game, special teams can win or lose the game for the Commodores, and the Dores need to change their luck, and have outstanding special teams to win this game.

Series History

Last meeting: Vanderbilt 17 South Carolina 6 (2007 in Columbia)

South Carolina leads series 14-3, 8-1 in Nashville (Vanderbilt won 17-14 in 1998)

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