Josh Kendall

Vanderbilt is one of the best at it; USC one of the worst

Game preview: Spotlight on USC run game, pass rush vs. Vandy

The State's Josh Kendall and Ben Breiner preview and predict the Gamecocks' upcoming game against Vanderbilt. (The State and USA Today photos)
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The State's Josh Kendall and Ben Breiner preview and predict the Gamecocks' upcoming game against Vanderbilt. (The State and USA Today photos)

Vanderbilt doesn’t do a lot of things well. It’s the reason the Commodores are 0-4 in the SEC heading into Saturday’s game against South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium.

However, there is one thing the Gamecocks should be taking notes on and that’s whatever Vanderbilt is doing offensively in the red zone. The Commodores lead the SEC and are third in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage at 84.21 percent. They have made 19 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and scored 16 times. All 16 of those have been touchdowns.

In comparison, South Carolina is last in the SEC and 121th in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage at 42.11 percent. The Gamecocks also have made 19 trips into the red zone. They have scored 15 times and eight of those have been touchdowns.

South Carolina is a seven-point favorite Saturday because of all of the Commodores’ other deficiencies, and the Gamecocks may be able to survive more stumbling in the red zone but that’s not going to be the case down the stretch against the likes of Georgia, Florida and Clemson.

If South Carolina is going to close the season the way it wants to, it has to improve its red zone offense, and getting started on that against Vanderbilt is the reason this game is a big deal.

Overall, the Gamecocks are 11th in the SEC in red zone scoring at 78.9 percent. Not surprisingly, improving that number was a major emphasis of South Carolina’s off week.

“You always want to study yourself schematically and what have we failed at in those situations and we have looked at that,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said.

The consensus among the coaches was that South Carolina needed to improve on what it’s doing in the red zone rather than trying a completely different strategy, Muschamp said. Quarterback Jake Bentley agreed.

“Really it was no philosophy change,” Bentley said. “We are still going to be needy, not greedy in the red zone. Points win games. You saw in the Tennessee game, we didn’t turn the ball over, we kicked field goals and we won the game. Just continuing to work on execution down there. Obviously we want to score more touchdowns but as far as philosophy or trying to be more aggressive, I just think we’re going to stay the same and try to execute better.”

They will need to, maybe not against Vanderbilt but certainly in the coming weeks, and proving against the Commodores that they can do it will be a big deal.

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