South Carolina (5-2) will play host to one of its SEC East rivals, the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-4), this Saturday in Columbia. The Gamecocks and Commodores will start play at 4:00 EST from Williams-Bryce Stadium, with the home team looking to become bowl eligible. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.
After a bye week to refresh, South Carolina is hoping to be healthier on the offensive line and thereby better in the run game. They’ll be without their No. 2 RB Rico Dowdle after he fractured his fibula. But lead back Tyson Williams (5.5 YPC) is enough to support the run.
The Gamecocks are more of a pass-heavy squad anyway, with sophomore QB Jake Bentley leading the way. Even while not playing his best against Tennessee, his leadership qualities and attitude continued to boost South Carolina.
Vanderbilt has a talented quarterback of their own in Kyle Shurmur. The junior has 14 touchdowns to only two interceptions, minimizing mistakes and creating more of a passing game than Vandy has had in a while. He wasn’t all that sharp against Ole Miss, but if he can bump his completion numbers up, he’d be a next-level SEC quarterback.
He hasn’t had much help from the hands of his receivers. Trent Sherfield seems like a potential No. 1 target, but there’s still not a whole lot of developed talent in the Commodore receiving corp. They do have RB Ralph Webb finally up and going a bit after a 163-yard performance against the Rebels.
South Carolina, though, is currently touchdown favorites.
Webb may’ve picked up his first praise-worthy performance of the season last weekend. But that doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods yet in terms of his dwindling production. He was playing the 126th-ranked rushing defense in the country, the worst among SEC teams.
Now compare that to South Carolina, 43rd in the category, and you can understand why uncertainty remains. If Shurmur can’t move the ball consistently, just as the past two weeks have shown, Vandy is in a position to be shut down early and often. Those 35 points in their last game won’t matter at all playing the Gamecocks. Carolina hasn’t given up more than 24 points since the season-opener.
As stated before, the health of the offensive line is critical for South Carolina. Malik Young at LT, Cory Helms at RG, and Zack Bailey at RT have all been injured and are listed as questionable for this week. They’ve done surprisingly well the last two weeks without them, but having them back will bring stability to the whole offense.
That line is still somewhat of a weak point for Cocky, but the Commodores haven’t exactly been themselves on the defensive front. 16 sacks in seven games isn’t bad, but they are getting beat up week after week on the ground. If it weren’t for their first two games, against lowly Alabama A&M and Middle Tennessee, they’d likely be dead-last in the country.
In the five games since, they’ve given up 1,590 rushing, nearly 6.5 YPC. Not a single back in the country comes close to having that many yards all season. Granted, South Carolina doesn’t have Alabama or Georgia’s talent in the backfield. But Tyson Williams is definitely good enough to help pin another 200 yards-plus on the ground versus this defense.
The Gamecocks won’t run up the score on Vanderbilt. But from how little the Commodores will move the needle offensively, don’t expect South Carolina to need much to cover.