16th-ranked South Carolina wants to make it six wins in a row over Vanderbilt this weekend, and oddsmakers think they've got a pretty good shot. The Gamecocks are a 22.5 point favorite thanks to a terrible start for Commodore football and a surging 'Cock program (phrasing!) that beat the #6 team in the country last week. Things look dire for Vandy, but these 'Dores have pulled off some big upsets against USC. The most notable win came in 2007 when they beat a top 10 Carolina team in a game that was so little-regarded that it couldn't even get a local TV broadcast.
We've pulled in some outside help from an expert to help preview this week's chance at an epic victory. Gamecock Man is a managing editor over at SBNation's Garnet and Black Attack, and he was willing to answer our questions about South Carolina football and how his Gamecocks match up with our Commodores. Here's what he had to say about Saturday's prime time contest.
1. South Carolina won an emotionally-charged game over Georgia last week. What is Steve Spurrier doing to make sure that this weekend's trip to Vanderbilt doesn't play out as a "let-down" or "trap" game?
When speaking to the media, Spurrier has emphasized that this South Carolina team is a work in progress. Although it's currently riding high off the upset of the week, the team is only a few weeks removed from a humiliating blowout loss to Texas A&M. I'm sure Spurrier is reminding the team that no matter how well they played against Georgia, any team that's bad enough to lose 52-28 at home is ripe for an upset on the road, regardless of the opponent. South Carolina isn't good enough to take any opponent for granted.
2. Jadeveon Clowney isn't around to behead running backs this season. How has South Carolina adapted to the loss of a once-in-a-generation talent on defense?
Poorly. South Carolina's pass defense is its Achilles's heel right now. The problem is in part a young (although very talented) secondary, but it's also lack of a pass rush. The team not only lacks a transcendent pass rusher like Clowney; it lacks anything in his stratosphere. Remember, Carolina has had a lot of other good rushers over the past few years--Eric Norwood, Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram, etc. The Gamecocks lack a guy like that this year, and it's hurting the defense as a whole.
3. Who is the more dangerous rushing threat for the Gamecocks right now - Mike Davis or Brandon Wilds? Who do you think will have a better night against a Vandy team that has had most of its defensive success against the run?
Mike Davis is the player more likely to explode for a Heisman-esque performance, but Wilds is the more consistent back right now. Davis has cutback and breakaway ability that Wilds doesn't have. However, against UGA, Davis got a little too cute a few times and danced around instead of hitting good holes. What Wilds brings is a more purposeful running style and the ability to break tackles. Wilds is also deceptively fast; although he lacks the agility and violent running style that often help Davis break out of traffic for a big gain, Wilds can break off a long run if he gets a big enough hole. I would expect Davis to have the better game against Vandy, but if Davis struggles early on, Spurrier may ask Wilds to shoulder the load, particularly in the second half if Vandy's defense is getting winded. Wilds's power running style is good for grinding out a win in the second half.
4. How do you expect Steve Spurrier to attack a Vandy offense that has, uh, lacked stability at quarterback this season?
Given Vandy's struggles at quarterback, I think Carolina should scheme aggressively against the run and force Vandy to make plays through the air. That will put some pressure on Carolina's young secondary, but Lorenzo Ward needs to challenge these guys to play better. Vandy provides a good opportunity to do that.
5. That A&M loss...was that all Kenny Hill?
It was a combination of A&M being better than expected, Carolina's defensive staff scheming poorly (you can't give an Air Raid team a huge cushion in pass coverage, as the whole idea behind this offense is to kill you with a slow drip of 5-15 yard passes), and Carolina's defensive personnel simply not being up to the task of handling A&M. Basically a perfect storm of suckitude.
6. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game?
I think Vandy finds ways to move the ball and make things interesting early on but that Carolina takes a solid lead to the locker room that it expands on in the second half. 42-13 Carolina.