South Carolina Football: Vanderbilt Commodores preview

As the SEC Football bottomdwellers, Vanderbilt is used to underperforming, but AJ Swann's poor play has been a bit of a surprise in Nashville. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
As the SEC Football bottomdwellers, Vanderbilt is used to underperforming, but AJ Swann's poor play has been a bit of a surprise in Nashville. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports /

The South Carolina football experience has not been a positive one for most of this season, but even so, the Gamecocks are still in contention for a bowl game. Winning the final three games of the year (home contests against Vandy, Kentucky, and Clemson) will move USC into traditional bowl eligibility with 6 total wins.

This weekend is step two of four (Jacksonville State was step one) in the uphill battle toward postseason play as Vanderbilt comes to town hoping to get the monkey off of their backs.

The Vanderbilt Commodores have not beaten any South Carolina football team since 2008. The 14-straight Gamecock wins over Vandy is the longest active streak in the SEC, and USC has only lost to the ‘Dores four total times in 32 games.

Some South Carolina football fans are nervous that the number might grow to five this weekend when Vanderbilt travels to Columbia for a 12:00 showdown in Williams-Brice Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the SECNetwork and ESPN app.

Vanderbilt is not good, but South Carolina has struggled in a big way this season. The Gamecocks are moderately heavy favorites, but optimism is not running rampant through Columbia like it was just three months ago.

One of the most concerning matchups on Saturday for the Gamecocks is the Carolina defensive backfield against the Vandy passing game.

Receivers Will Sheppard, Jayden McGowan (a South Carolina native), and London Humphreys have been exceptional, helping their team to a top-5 mark in the SEC in explosive pass plays despite mediocre quarterback play from AJ Swann and Ken Seals this season (Seals is expected to start on Saturday).

The 126th-ranked pass defense of the Gamecocks will have their hands full trying to cover the three speedy wideouts, especially if defensive coordinator Clayton White continues to run man coverage across the board, particularly in the slot with a safety playing nickel.

Vanderbilt’s defense is the only SEC unit that is just as bad as Carolina’s defense, so it seems likely that Spencer Rattler and the Gamecock offense are in line for a big day. The best players on that Vandy D are their linebackers, and USC hasn’t had a consistent running game (despite the emergence of Mario Anderson), so the offensive attack likely will be primarily through the air.

Rattler should pass Anthony Wright and Phil Petty on the all-time passing list (trails each by under 200 yards) and could move past Tommy Suggs on the all-time touchdown list (trails by 3) with a good performance on Saturday.

Xavier Legette is almost guaranteed to become just the fifth player to ever have a 1000-yard receiving season in garnet and black, joining Sterling Sharpe, Sidney Rice, Alshon Jeffery, and Pharoh Cooper. He currently has 973 yards on the year.

Fans are holding onto a small amount of hope that the Gamecocks can use this game against Vanderbilt to get back on track for the two tougher tests that end the season.

While the game against Jacksonville State was not a well-played game, perhaps the final couple of minutes can serve as a springboard to better things. After 58 minutes of relatively poor play, the final two minutes saw the Carolina defense pick off two passes (returning one for a score), and the offense could have scored again but elected to take a knee in a sign of good sportsmanship.

Injuries are still a major storyline for this year’s South Carolina football squad, and that will continue this week. Coach Shane Beamer will continue offering updates throughout the week on who will play and who will sit, but the team almost assuredly will be without multiple starters yet again this weekend.

Even still, the Gamecocks have to beat Vanderbilt, and they have to beat Vanderbilt with a better effort than the one they put on the field against JSU last Saturday. If they don’t, there is very little chance of beating Kentucky and Clemson, and the program could be in for a turbulent offseason if things go south the rest of the way.

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