Vanderbilt is mired in a funk. The Commodores have lost four straight games after a 3-0 start to effectively waste the goodwill of a home victory over then-No. 18 Kansas State. Vandy, once standing on the outskirts of the top 25, will have to rally just to be bowl eligible in 2017.
Beating South Carolina on the road would go a long way to righting that ship, but it won’t be easy. The Gamecocks’ rebuild has been solid this fall, as USC has beaten North Carolina State, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee en route to a 5-2 start. They’ve only lost one game at home, but the fact that was against a Kentucky team with a below-average offense offers some hope for an upset.
The Commodores’ offense shouldn’t be a problem — Vandy dropped 35 points on Ole Miss two weeks ago. The big question will be whether last week’s bye provided enough time for a once-stout defense to fix its myriad problems. SEC opponents have scored an average of 49.8 points per game against Derek Mason’s squad, showcasing the team’s fatal flaw.
South Carolina may or may not have the offense to take advantage of that. The Gamecocks dropped 48 points on Arkansas two games ago, but managed just 15 against Tennessee and 47 total points in a three-game, 1-2 stretch against UK, Louisiana Tech, and Texas A&M.
So will Vandy’s ineffective defense be the key to unlocking South Carolina’s inconsistent offense? Or will Mason have fixed enough of his team’s problems during the bye week to create an upset in Columbia?
Christian D’Andrea: The Vanderbilt offense is the best it has ever been under Derek Mason. The defense, somehow, is the worst. Where we once hoped for an ugly slopfest to give Vandy its best chance for victory, we’re now left hoping Kyle Shurmur can keep pace in a shootout.
approach saps some of that effectiveness, though that’ll be a different story Saturday if Ralph Webb has returned to form. The All-SEC back had run for 245 yards in the first six games of his senior season before exploding for 163 and two touchdowns against Ole Miss. A reliable Webb and a still-growing Shurmur are the key to a 30+ point performance for the Commodores.
Even if those two play to their peak, they’ll need some help from a defense that’s been depressing in October. A big part of Vandy’s problem has been a dissipating pass rush that was fearsome in the team’s 3-0 start but has fallen off in recent weeks. After 10 sacks in the team’s first three games, the ‘Dores have had only six in their four-game losing streak.
Pressuring Jake Bentley Saturday will go a long way toward keeping the Gamecocks to a reasonable final score. A solid push up front -- not just in the pass rush but in terms of clogging running lanes — is something Vanderbilt has been working on throughout the bye week. Expect a renewed emphasis on the blitz in Columbia — but until we see the actual improvement on the field, I can’t buy in to this team for an important road challenge like this.
The Pick: South Carolina 38, Vanderbilt 28
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Tennessee over KENTUCKY. I just don’t want the Butch Jones era to end. No SEC coach has ever been better at mangling quotes he clearly stole from a motivational poster.
VandyTigerPhD: I have to agree with Christian here. There’s no way I can confidently pick Vanderbilt to win this game with how we’ve been playing recently. Though let’s be honest, the state of Vanderbilt footbaw is always in a state of chaos, so it’ll be a game that got away from us one way or another. I look forward to having to talk about a key drive or bad turnover that lost us the game. I don’t even know what to think or say anymore. It’s just beyond frustrating that our defense has been the problem while our offense found its feet.
In any case, let’s be honest here. We often talk about USC games being close and fun, but we generally found a way to lose them. Also look back, they’re not nearly as close as we tend to remember.
The Pick: Cocky 41 - Vanderbilt 27
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Well, CDA stole my UT pick here, so I’ll have to go with something else to not look like I am just lifting everything from him. I will therefore side with Aggie (+1) over CLANGA. Just because Aggie must be doomed to suffer with Sumlin for at least another season.
Tom Stephenson: I personally don’t think South Carolina’s offense is all that good. Their best playmaker is out for the season, they’re coached by Will Muschamp; they scored 13 against Kentucky, 17 against Louisiana Tech, 17 against Texas A&M, and 15 against Tennessee. (They did score 48 on Arkansas, but there were a bunch of defensive touchdowns involved there.)
So of course this means that they’re going to score on our defense. On paper, I think Vanderbilt has a chance to win this game, but we’ve lost eight in a row to South Carolina so these sorts of things don’t matter. Prove me wrong, Vanderbilt.
The Pick: South Carolina 38, Vanderbilt 31
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: The good upset picks are off the board, so I’ll go with UCONN (+13) over Missourah, because while UConn is bad, Missourah is also bad. What, you thought I was going to say the WLOCP? Nope, I have seen nothing from Florida to suggest they’re going to beat Georgia.