(9) South Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0)|
Thursday, August 30, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: SEC East Division rivals meet in one of the first games of the 2012
season, as the ninth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks pay a visit to the
Steve Spurrier's South Carolina squad comes into the season as one of the
favorites to win the division, and the Gamecocks are hoping to continue their
recent mastery of SEC East foes as they have won eight straight, and nine of
their last 10 overall against them.
USC, which set a school record for wins in a season last year with 11, has won
12 consecutive season openers. However, when the Gamecocks open on the road,
they are just 8-18 all-time. They have won their last three lidlifters away
from home though. Spurrier is an astounding 21-1 all-time in season openers as
a head coach.
Vanderbilt is set to begin the second year of coach James Franklin's tenure,
and the Commodores went 6-7 a season ago.
Vandy has won five of its last seven season openers, and a win in this contest
would give the 'Dores back-to-back season-opening wins after they whipped Elon
last year, 45-14. Additionally, VU can claim its second straight SEC-opening
win after topping Ole Miss in 2011, 30-7. The Commodores haven't won
consecutive conference openers since taking three straight from Georgia back in
South Carolina owns a commanding 17-4 edge in the all-time series with
Vanderbilt, and the Gamecocks have won the last three meetings. Vandy's last
win came in Nashville back in 2008.
Junior QB Connor Shaw is the man Spurrier will trust to run his offense on a
full-time basis this year, after he completed 65.4 percent of his passes for
1,448 yards, 14 TDs and 6 INTs a season ago. Junior Ace Sanders (29 receptions,
383 yards, 2 TDs) is the team's top returning receiver, and a guy like senior
D.L. Moore could make his final year in Columbia a special one if he is able to
utilize his 6-foot-5 frame to make himself as big a target as possible down
The Gamecocks have one of the nation's elite running backs on the roster, as
junior Marcus Lattimore was on his way to a monster season in 2011 before
suffering a serious knee injury. In seven games, Lattimore rushed for 818 yards
and 10 TDs, averaging 5.0 ypc, and it will be interesting to see just how
effective he is early on as he continues to work himself back into playing
shape. Only two starters return along the offensive line for a unit that ran
the ball far more often than it passed it last year.
Lattimore's rehab has been going well, and he is confident he'll be a major
contributor this season, "I feel good. I know it's a long process, but my knee
feels great. I'm just taking it day by day, and it's working."
The South Carolina defense allowed just 18.4 ppg last season, and its strength
was against the pass as opponents were permitted a mere 131.7 ypg. A total of
six guys with starting experience return to the lineup, although the one player
that needs to be accounted for every time he steps on the field is sophomore DE
Jadeveon Clowney. As a freshman, the gifted pass-rusher finished second on the
team in both TFL (12) and sacks (8), while tying for the team-lead in QB
Hurries (6) and leading the way in forced fumbles (5).
Senior FS D.J. Swearinger is the top returning tackler after amassing 80 stops
last season, and he also tallied 3 INTs, while Shaq Wilson (52 tackles) anchors
a linebacking corps that is expected to start all seniors.
Spurrier noted the excitement his players have displayed with the start of the
season rapidly approaching, "I think our guys are really starting to look
forward to the ballgame Thursday night on national TV."
Vanderbilt also had one of the SEC's top rushers in 2011, as Zac Stacy churned
out 1,193 yards and scored 14 TDs, averaging just shy of six yards per attempt.
He is back for his senior year, as is QB Jordan Rodgers. Improving his accuracy
will be the key to Rodgers' season, as he hit the mark on only 50 percent of
his throws a year ago, with 9 TDs and 10 INTs.
Junior Jordan Matthews led all Vandy pass catchers with 41 receptions for 778
yards last year, tallying 5 TDs along the way, while then-freshman Chris Boyd
found the end zone 8 times as part of his 31-catch, 473-yard effort.
The left side of the offensive line returns in tact, with junior Wesley Johnson
expected to be the glue that holds the unit together.
Defensively, the Commodores should be in decent shape with seven starters back
in the fold. Although, the three top tacklers from a year ago are all gone,
leaving senior LB Archibald Barnes (59 stops, 2 sacks, 2 INTs) to anchor the
Others to keep an eye on include junior DE Walker May (3 sacks), junior LB
Chase Garnham (51 tackles), and DBs Javon Marshall (42 tackles, 2 INTs) and
Trey Wilson (30 tackles, 3 INTs).
The Vandy defense did a solid job against the run last year (3.6 ypc),
including the South Carolina game when it limited Lattimore to 77 yards on 20
carries. The Gamecocks' game-changing RB did finish with 150 all-purpose yards
and two TDs, so stopping him will be paramount to keeping the USC offense in
check this time around.
South Carolina has the talent to challenge Georgia for the SEC East title, but
a lot will hinge on the play of Shaw and the health of Lattimore. Vanderbilt is
going to put its best foot forward in an effort to pull off the early upset,
but expect the Gamecocks to earn the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 31, Vanderbilt 14
08/29 10:35:40 ET