On solid footing?
Junior running back Marcus Lattimore returns to the field amid a lot of hype. He was selected first-team All-SEC by the league’s media and coaches, and enters the season considered a Heisman contender. Lattimore led the Gamecocks with 818 rushing yards last year despite playing in just seven games due to an ACL tear. He promises he won’t be timid due to the injury, and Thursday will be his first chance to prove it.
The pass rush
Defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are expected to have big years. How big, defensive line coach Brad Lawing won’t guess. “I don’t gauge it by sacks,” Lawing said. “We talk about affecting the quarterback. A good gauge is one sack for every 10 passes so if you have 50 passes in a game and you have five sacks, a lot of people say that’s a good game, but what happened the other 45 times they threw the football?” Clowney (eight) and Taylor (six) combined for 14 sacks last season.
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Circle the wagons
Commodores head coach James Franklin has made no secret that this is the biggest game of his brief tenure. Vanderbilt fans have been urged to wear all black, and the energy level at Vanderbilt Stadium could be at an all-time high. All of that will make the start of the game key for each team. If things go well for Vanderbilt early, it could be a long night for South Carolina. On the flip side, if the Gamecocks take charge quickly, the Commodores might collapse under the pressure.
Vanderbilt gained just 77 yards against South Carolina last season, but that was with Larry Smith at quarterback. After switching to Jordan Rodgers under center, the Commodores vastly improved their passing game and averaged 31 points per game. South Carolina has three new starters in its defensive secondary, so the matchup bears watching.
South Carolina has opened five of Spurrier’s previous seven seasons with a Thursday night game, and the Gamecocks are undefeated in those games. Overall, Spurrier is 21-1 in his career in season-opening games. The only time he has started a season 0-1 was 1989 when his Duke Blue Devils lost 27-21 to South Carolina.
Head to head matchup
South Carolina CB Vic Hampton vs. Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
The 5-foot-10 Hampton will be making his first career start against one of the country’s hottest wide receivers. The 6-3 Matthews had only five catches for 63 yards in the team’s first five games last year, including one for 6 against the Gamecocks, but finished with 778 yards on 41 catches. Matthews “made some big-time catches the latter part of last year, and they say he has made a lot of big-time catches in their practices and their scrimmages there at Vandy,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.