Don't expect fireworks when Vanderbilt and South Carolina meet on the gridiron. Saturday's game will pit the #109 and the #111 scoring offenses in the country against each other in Columbia. That means Vandy's top 25 defense will have the chance to feast on a Carolina team that's been rudderless since losing starting quarterback Connor Mitch in week one. Here's a tip: bet the under when the Gamecocks and Commodores face off.
While the Vandy defense will be in a strong position to make a stand, the 'Dores need to prove that they used their bye week to plug some of the holes that have been sinking their offense. The first 52 minutes of their campaign against Middle Tennessee sent every signal that the Blue Raiders were going to celebrate a happy, but rainy, Homecoming in Murfreesboro. It was only when 2-minute Johnny showed up - the Mushroom Kingdom Powerup version of McCrary that seems to come out only when the clock draws thin - and Ralph Webb decided he'd finished the Jared Hawkins impression that had stuck with him through the first third of the season. Vanderbilt powered through to score a game-winning 14 points in those final eight minutes, but it was barely enough to erase the damage that the previous 3.5 quarters had done.
Derek Mason and Andy Ludwig have had 13 days to prepare for the Gamecocks, and that should mean a few new wrinkles for this offense. The key may be whether or not Webb can sustain the breakout that he started against the Blue Raiders. The sophomore tailback broke free for 155 yards and a touchdown in the first game where he's rushed for more than four yards per carry in 2015. Having him to spread out the USC defense would create extra lanes for McCrary's passing game and help elevate a unit that's only scoring 21.2 points per game this season.
Vanderbilt will need both players to step up to win this battle of low-caliber offenses. Let's take a closer look at the matchup.
Christian D'Andrea: South Carolina has two directions in which they can go here. They can throw in the towel in the midst of a 2-4 season like their coach already has, or they can unite as a team strengthened by all the weird hurdles that had just been placed in front of them. The team's captains bound together to give Shawn Elliott their official stamp of approval earlier this week, and I think that's a sign they'll choose the latter route. Those players didn't have much of a choice, but they'll still have the opportunity to play for someone that they admire and respect. The Gamecocks aren't going to roll over - at least not in the middle of October.
That means that Vanderbilt has work to do. South Carolina and Vanderbilt will pair two sputtering offenses against each other, but the Commodore defense has been stronger than this week's rival. Vandy is giving up only 320.8 yards per game to opponents this year - and that includes high octane offenses like Ole Miss, Georgia (with a healthy Nick Chubb), and Western Kentucky. South Carolina, on the other hand, is giving up 428 yards per game against a similarly talented list of opponents.
That gives Vanderbilt a slight edge - but nothing that factors like Homecoming or the sudden retirement of a beloved coach can't cancel out. The three-point spread on this game sounds exactly right, but I'm only 60-40 on which way it should go. I'm not especially confident on this team's ability to make major offensive strides through the bye week, but I do like Mason's defense enough to think that he'll get his first SEC win on Saturday.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 20, South Carolina 17
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: See above. But A&M (+4 at home) over Alabama could do some work for you, too.
Tom Stephenson: Color me surprised that Vandy hasn't beaten South Carolina since 2008, in a game that was ultimately overshadowed by some perv hiding a video camera in Erin Andrews' bathroom at the Marriott. One of the underappreciated aspects of Steve Spurrier's coaching career was that his teams rarely lost to less-talented teams. Spurrier owns a 20-2 career record against Vandy and a 20-3 career record against Kentucky, with all of those losses coming while he was at South Carolina.
But, this seems rather irrelevant with Spurrier being on a golf course somewhere this Saturday, and also because I am not entirely convinced that Vandy is the less talented team here. The 'Cocks defense went downhill last season after Jadeveon Clowney left for the NFL, and in 2015, the offense has joined them as well. South Carolina's defense couldn't even prevent Greyson Lambert from completing a pass, something that everybody else in the SEC has been able to do with ease. Meanwhile, Vandy's underrated defense should be quite good at blocking the Cocks from scoring. The only surprising thing about this game is that Vandy is somehow the underdog.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 17, South Carolina 10
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: I'm tempted to go with A&M, but I'll go with Florida (+7.5) over LSU. If I'm being blunt, the only reason the line is that big is because Will Grier ain't playing. But Treon Harris is a perfectly cromulent backup, and it's possible that the Gators won't miss a beat. Now there is that whole "preventing Leonard Fournette from running wild" thing, but I'm predicting that Les Miles will have enough brain farts where he decides not to run the damn ball for Florida to keep LSU out of the end zone.
VUFanInTX: The MTSU game and WKU game were unknowns before the games started. I felt like we would either win big or lose close. Even with the win against MTSU, it felt uncomfortable and more like a close loss. The offense is just not hitting on all cylinders and it feels like watching two different teams - the forced, complex and ineffective version for 50 minutes or so and then the faster paced, simpler version for the last 10 minutes that seems to fit more of what the team excels at. This game feels similar to those - on paper we should be better but its all about our execution. The hurdle this week is that the talent level probably leans the Gamecock's way so a slow start or lack of execution could make this game uncomfortable for Vandy with little hope of correcting. If the bye week gave Coach Ludwig any time to figure out the identity of this offense then I think we win a close grinding game. If not, then this will be a disappointment and wasted opportunity.
The Pick: I have to believe the offense will be figured out. Vandy 28, USC 17
SEC Upset of the Week: To further the hype train, i want to pick Memphis to beat Ole Miss in a shocker.. but that is just plain crazy. I think they will cover but an outright win might be a bit much. Since I think Bama, UGA and LSU will take care of business, I am left with La Tech beating MSU... and I think I would bet on that. MSU has been a disappointment this year and I think they overlook LA Tech and get bit in the ass.
VandyTigerPhD: I was so surprised by that "we haven't beaten Carolina since 2008" tid bit that I had to go check it for myself. It just didn't seem right. It's true though, we haven't beaten USC since 2008. Lots of things are on our side though. USC is horrendous this year, and despite the players being "angry" Spurrier left them mid-season, I don't see that changing. We have one of the best defenses in the conference, though no one notices. The only big thing against us is our offense is still not really producing unless under pressure. If we can run a fast-paced offense this might be a large win. I doubt we will though. So before any of y'all go twisting my words after a bad play during the game, let's just say it's going to be a game of lots of mistakes. That said, this is a chance for Coach Mason to get that first SEC win.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 13, South Carolina 10
SEC Upset of the Week: Missouri +17 covers against UGA. I don't think I'll go so far as to say Mizzou will win, but clearly some oddsmaker thinks Chubb is still playing or something. If Missouri wins, it may be better for us, lulling a bad Missouri team into a false sense of security.