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South Carolina Football Way-Too-Early Schedule Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer approaching Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea for a handshake after the Gamecocks beat the Commodores in 2022. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer approaching Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea for a handshake after the Gamecocks beat the Commodores in 2022. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

The end of the South Carolina football regular season is, without a doubt, the lightest portion of what is the nation’s most difficult schedule as the Gamecocks finish the year with four straight games at home. The South Carolina Gamecocks will take on the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Clemson Tigers to end the regular season, and the home team should be favored to win at least three of those contests.

The second leg of the four-game November stretch comes against the Vanderbilt Commodores. The overall series between these two teams has been lopsided as most Vanderbilt football series are. However, the Gamecocks have the second-best mark of all SEC teams against the ‘Dores in the team’s history, only trailing Texas A&M (3-0). Auburn is the only team in the conference without a winning record against Vandy, as the Tigers are 21-21-1 all-time against the Commodores. (Clemson is also 1-3 all-time in games against Vanderbilt.)

Vanderbilt has only beaten South Carolina four times since Lionel Richie was a Commodore (back-to-back in 1998 and 1999 and again back-to-back in 2007 and 2008). In fact, those are Vandy’s only victories over the University of South Carolina as the Gamecocks are 28-4 all-time against the Nashville-based squad. A 14-game Carolina winning streak in the series will be on the line when the two teams face off on Veteran’s Day (November 11th).

Clark Lea and Shane Beamer each will be entering their third years as head coaches at Vanderbilt and South Carolina this fall, but the two programs appear to be in completely different places. The Gridiron Gamecocks are perceived to be continuing their ascent in the college football world, while the Commodores are expected to remain one of the worst Power-5 programs in all of college football.

South Carolina football has increased its win total every year since 2020, while Vanderbilt has only won two conference games during that same stretch, one against a Florida team who had quit on their coach and one against a Kentucky squad quarterbacked by an injured passer who likes to put mayonnaise in his coffee. The only solace for Lea is that both of those uninspiring conference wins came last season, and the Commodore’s 5-7 record was Vandy’s best since 2018.

Vanderbilt’s two conference wins in 2022 came about, in large part, thanks to the quarterbacking efforts of Mike White, but the athletic signal caller will be suiting up for the Mississippi State Bulldogs this season after inexplicably being run out of town in favor of AJ Swann. Swann is a solid quarterback, but Vanderbilt’s best success on the field this century has been with the anomaly of having a first-round NFL Draft pick at quarterback in Jay Cutler or with athletic quarterbacks like Chris Nixson, Mackenzi Adams, Larry Smith, and Jordan Rodgers.

Swann and the Commodores will also be without dynamic running back Ray Davis who transferred to Kentucky. Davis was the main problem for the Carolina defense in last season’s matchup. Without White and Davis, it is unclear where the Commodores will find production in the running game, allowing defensive coordinator Clayton White and his unit to gear up to stop Swann and the passing game.

Carolina has had tremendous success running the ball against Vandy in recent years. The Gamecocks have gained at least 200 yards on the ground in 5 of the last 6 games against the Commodores.

The 2023 version of the South Carolina football team enters the season with tons of questions at the running back position, so in order to continue the trend, the Gamecocks will need someone to step up in a major way. Utility offensive weapon Dakereon Joyner seems poised to start at the beginning of the year, but true freshman Dontavious Braswell and Newberry Mario Anderson are sure to be factors along with scatback Juju McDowell. All four backs will play, but the Gamecocks will need at least one of the talented runners to emerge from the pack.

Spencer Rattler’s late-season turnaround began against the Commodores in 2022 as Rattler had a touchdown-interception ratio of 13-3 (plus a rushing touchdown) over the Gamecocks’ final five games while throwing for just under 1400 yards. If the Carolina offense shows the improvement that is expected under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, the Gamecock offense should again put up good numbers against a Commodore “D” that lost its three best players to the NFL.

As is true most seasons, there is no reason to expect South Carolina to have any problems beating Vanderbilt in 2023. There have been close calls in the past (2021 being the closest and most recent), but Shane Beamer’s program and Clark Lea’s program are simply on different levels. November 11th should prove this, and the Gamecocks should start November 2-0 with home contests remaining against Kentucky and Clemson remaining to finish the regular season.