Game preview: Spotlight on USC run game, pass rush vs. Vandy
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley talked a lot about Vanderbilt’s pass defense and seemed to like what he saw.
Commodores coach Derek “Mason is one of the great defensive minds in the game of football,” Bentley said. “They are an aggressive bunch. They will bring pressure. They are not scared to play man coverage. They really believe in their corners and safeties, and they are great players.”
Vanderbilt is tied for fourth in the SEC and 11th in nation in pass defense, allowing 170.4 yards per game, but the Commodores’ pass defense is not going to be the story Saturday when South Carolina (5-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) takes on Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4) at 4 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. That will be the Commodores’ run defense, which is not just bad but historically bad.
First, the just-kinda-bad: the Commodores are 122nd in the nation in rush defense, allowing 242.8 yards per game on the ground.
Now for the really-really-really bad: Vanderbilt has allowed an average of 347.3 yards per game on the ground in four conference games. That is not only worst in the nation, but only three teams in the past 10 years have allowed more rushing yards per game in conference games. None of them were in Power Five conferences.
The Commodores have had the misfortune of playing both Alabama and Georgia already (the Crimson Tide gained 496 yards on the ground while the Bulldogs had 423), but even that’s not a good enough excuse for their numbers.
It is good news for the Gamecocks, though. South Carolina has averaged 175 rushing yards per game in its three SEC wins. It has averaged 55.5 rushing yards per game in its two SEC losses.
This week, South Carolina will get three veteran offensive linemen back, and two of them – right tackle Zack Bailey and right guard Cory Helms – are expected to return to the starting lineup.
Mason said this week that his defense will get back to basics, cutting down on the number of things it tries to do in favor of doing a few things well. (This is a mantra that should sound familiar to fans of South Carolina’s offense.)
Back to the basics is not going to help the Commodores enough on Saturday, though.
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 14