Time for another Blogger Q&A. Vanderbilt opens SEC play this week against the South Carolina Gamecocks, who are 1-1 and had their last game against Marshall cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. South Carolina has already played its first SEC game, a 41-17 loss to Georgia two weeks ago — which also just happens to be their last time out.
Today, we’re talking to Kody Timmers, who runs our South Carolina blog Garnet & Black Attack.
1. Let’s address the obvious question first. It’s been a hell of a week for South Carolina, with the Gamecocks having their Week 3 game against Marshall cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. How is the team responding to that?
Judging from what Will Muschamp told the media, the coaching staff has just tried to keep everything as normal as possible. To that end, it doesn’t sound like the team has deviated much from its usual routine, though I think they got a couple more practices and lifting sessions in. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to work the Georgia game out of their systems against Marshall, but the players will definitely be eager and raring to go against Vandy. Hopefully they can put that pent-up energy to good use.
2. The last time out, South Carolina lost to Georgia 41-17. Were there any issues that were exposed by the Bulldogs or was that just an expected beatdown by a superior team?
I think it was mostly a beatdown by a superior team, compounded by some self-inflicted wounds that we couldn’t afford with such a small margin of error. It did expose a few things, but in large part, they were weaknesses we already knew about (undersized defensive line, lack of a reliable running game, shaky secondary). The most troubling issue was the amount of drops we had from what has otherwise been a reliable receiving corps, but hopefully that can just be chalked up to a bad day. Prior to that game, I’d been holding out hope the Cocks could compete through four full quarters, but Georgia’s roster is just too deep -- and the drop-off between our starters and our backups is a lot wider than theirs. So, disappointing for sure, but not entirely unexpected.
3. Through two games, South Carolina has given Rico Dowdle 22 carries and 17 to Tyson Williams. Do you expect the Gamecock backs to continue splitting carries or will one back start to earn a featured role?
The staff seems committed to rotating the backs and so I’d expect it to stay that way, especially since neither Dowdle nor Williams has separated himself to this point. They’re both hard runners who do a great job with receptions out of the backfield, but again, there’s just not much explosiveness in the run game right now. (Dowdle was also briefly benched during the Georgia game for a couple egregious drops, one of which went for a pick-six, but that was uncharacteristic of him.) There’s also the curious case of AJ Turner, who was one of the most reliable playmakers last season but has received only a handful of touches in both games so far. I’m interested to see if he’ll be a larger factor this weekend.
4. Who are some key players on defense for Vanderbilt to look out for? How do you think the Gamecocks will try to stop the Vanderbilt offense?
This defense has been pretty anonymous so far, with a host of young and new players mixing in. Linebackers TJ Brunson and Bryson Allen-Williams are the grizzled and reliable veterans, and with the injury to preseason All-SEC lineman DJ Wonnum, keep an eye out for Danny Fennell and Javon Kinlaw. Turnovers could be key in this one -- under Muschamp, this defense has been very opportunistic, and South Carolina led the SEC in turnover margin last season. Typically, USC employs a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, so I’d expect to see the Cocks guarding against Da Bomb and other explosive plays from Kyle Shurmur & Co.
5. What is your kicker’s career long field goal and is he prepared to beat that on Saturday?
Oh boy. Well, I can tell you one thing that should make you feel better: He’s no Elliott Fry. Parker White’s career long is 47 yards, and once he gets beyond 40, it’s time to start sweating (all of his misses last season were from distances greater than 45 yards). He’s also gotten very little work so far, as USC didn’t attempt any field goals against Coastal and only kicked a 26-yard chipshot against Georgia (which he made). He’s got great leg strength and is a touchback machine, but his accuracy is all over the map. To say I’m uncomfortable with the scenario of needing a long field goal to win would be an understatement.
6. Finally, what is your prediction for the outcome of the game?
I can’t recall a South Carolina-Vandy game that wasn’t a slow-developing train derailment, so I’ll go with 28-24 Cocks. I don’t know exactly what to expect from USC on Saturday, but this is always a hard-fought battle no matter the circumstances.