South Carolina plays Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. Here are the top five storylines headed into the game:
Will Gamecocks be rusty or ready?
Teams usually relish an open date, but not when they’re early in the season, of the unexpected variety and coming off a disheartening loss. South Carolina likely would have benefited from playing Marshall last week from a confidence standpoint if nothing else. Head coach Will Muschamp was happy with how his team handled the cancellation of the game and the ensuing practices, in which he and the players said he turned up the intensity. Still, it feels like a long time since the Gamecocks have taken the field, and it will be interesting to see how they look when they do.
Where’s the running game?
Two games in is too early to make a determination, especially when one of those games came against the best team in the division, but South Carolina at the moment finds itself in a familiar spot – 12th in the SEC in rushing offense. The Gamecocks are averaging 158.5 yards per game on the ground. The Commodores are 11th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 131.7 yards per game. Muschamp and first-year offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon agreed that the Gamecocks should have been more “hard-headed” in the run game against Georgia. Expect them to be very stubborn about it Saturday and don’t be surprised if South Carolina ends up with between 40 and 50 carries.
Is this road back to winning streak?
A trip to Nashville, Tenn., is a nice way to ease into the road schedule because the Commodores home stadium is hardly daunting. In fact, the trouble at Vanderbilt is more often that the traditionally smaller crowd and quieter venue makes it difficult for teams to get up for games. Still, there are the same logistical challenges that come with any road game, and the Gamecocks have enough new faces in the rotation that the adjustment could have an effect on how they play. Muschamp’s first win at South Carolina came at Vanderbilt, but he’s only won two conference road games since then.
Can Gamecocks disrupt Kyle Shurmur?
South Carolina will be without starting defensive end D.J. Wonnum (ankle) again, and the Gamecocks defensive line had depth issues even when Wonnum was healthy. Muschamp’s biggest defensive concern Saturday has to be the thought of veteran Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur sitting in the pocket with plenty of time to find a good handful of targets. If South Carolina can’t get pressure on Shurmur, he will pick them apart in small chunks all day long, keeping the ball out of the hands of the Gamecocks’ offense.
Will the bottom fall out?
It’s an exaggeration to say the momentum of the last two seasons of South Carolina football would fall completely apart with a loss to Vanderbilt, but it’s not a huge one. If the Gamecocks want to prove they have taken a step back into conference contention, they can’t lose to the Commodores or Kentucky next week. You simply can’t be on the right side of the division if you’re looking up at Vanderbilt or the Wildcats. South Carolina has won nine straight against Vanderbilt. If it doesn’t make it 10 on Saturday, it will feel like the sky is falling for a lot of people.
Who: South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (2-1, 0-0)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium (39,790)
TV: SEC Network (Taylor Zarzour, play-by-play; Matt Stinchcomb, analysis; Kris Budden, sideline)
Radio: 107.5 FM (Todd Ellis, play-by-play; Tommy Suggs, analysis; Langston Moore, sideline) ... See all the radio affiliates around the state here.
Satellite radio: Sirius 106/XM 384