The South Carolina Gamecocks will travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores for a matchup between a pair of SEC foes in search of their first victory of the season. Both head coaches of these respective programs need that win in the worst way possible, as Will Muschamp and Derek Mason find themselves sitting firmly on the hot seat just two weeks into the season.
South Carolina fell to 0-2 last Saturday with a 38-24 loss to Florida in The Swamp, marking the Gamecocks' fifth loss in a row dating back to last season. Ironically, South Carolina's most recent win came last November against Vanderbilt in Columbia by a score of 24-7. Saturday's matchup against the Commodores will provide a golden opportunity for Muschamp to take some of the heat off with a much-needed victory for the Gamecocks.
It's been tough sledding for the Commodores as well. Following a promising performance on the road in a 17-12 loss at Texas A&M, Vanderbilt felt the wrath of a highly motivated LSU team in the form of a 41-7 beat down last Saturday night in Nashville. The Commodores, now 0-2, have lost six straight SEC contests dating back to October 2019. Can Mason and his Commodores finally get off the schneid with an upset victory over the reeling Gamecocks on Saturday?
South Carolina leads the all-time series 25-4, and the Gamecocks have won 11 consecutive games against the Commodores dating back to 2008.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -13
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Grad transfer Collin Hill will lead the way at quarterback for the South Carolina offense. Hill has been serviceable in his first two starts in the SEC, completing 62 percent of his passes for 502 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. However, his 5.8 yards per pass attempt leaves plenty to be desired, and he could certainly use more help from a receiving corps that has struggled with dropped passes.
Senior wide receiver Shi Smith has been a reliable and productive target for Hill, racking up 22 catches for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith will likely be the focal point for a Vanderbilt defense that has had mixed results against the pass in its first two contests — looking somewhat crisp against Kellen Mond and Texas A&M before getting torched by Myles Brennan and the LSU passing attack last week. It will be interesting to see how the Vandy defense stacks up through the air against South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks have had serious issues in pass protection, giving up the most sacks (8) in the SEC through two games. And if South Carolina's offensive line isn't up to the challenge again this week, Vanderbilt does have the ability to be disruptive with pass rushers Dayo Odeyingbo and Andre Mintze.
South Carolina should be able to find success on the ground against a Vanderbilt run defense that is giving up a generous 5.8 yards per carry (13th in the SEC). Sophomore running back Kevin Harris will spearhead the Gamecock rushing attack, coming off a productive 100-yard rushing performance against Florida. Through two games, Harris has 155 yards and a pair of scores on the ground, adding five receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown as a pass-catcher. Linebacker Dimitri Moore will lead the charge for Vanderbilt against the South Carolina run game. Safeties Dashaun Jerkins and Donovan Kaufman are sure tacklers on the back end. Kaufman, a true freshman, also has shown flashes as a potential threat in the return game.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
It's been a baptism by fire for Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals, who was tasked with the unfortunate predicament of facing Texas A&M and LSU in his first two collegiate starts. The true freshman signal-caller had his moments in those matchups, but as you might expect, the overall results have not been good (31-of-54, 263 yards, 2 touchdowns, 4 interceptions). To be fair, Seals hasn't gotten much help from a lackluster offensive line that saw several players opt-out in the preseason due to COVID-19 concerns. As a result, Seals has been sacked five times and hurried 11 times through the first two contests. Pass protection will also be a concern on Saturday against a solid South Carolina pass rush, led by Aaron Sterling, Kingsley Enagbare, and Keir Thomas.
On the bright side, Seals will be facing a South Carolina pass defense that has allowed more than its fair share of explosive plays through the air — giving up 8.7 yards per pass attempt and allowing five passing touchdowns in two games. However, that did come against two of the conferences more experienced quarterbacks (Kyle Trask and Jarrett Guarantano). And the inexperienced Seals, who is averaging an SEC-worst 4.9 yards per pass attempt, will still have his work cut out for him against a secondary that features two of the SEC's better defensive backs in Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn. That will require plenty of help from Vandy's top receiving options — Amir Abdur-Rahman (6 receptions, 76 yards, 1 touchdown), Cam Johnson (5 receptions, 84 yards), and tight end Ben Bresnahan (6 receptions, 59 yards, 1 touchdown).
The Commodores will likely rely on a committee approach in their bid to generate yards on the ground against the Gamecocks. Sophomore Ja'Veon Marlow has been Vandy's most effective running back to date, rushing for 148 yards on 33 carries (4.5 ypc), while senior Jamauri Wakefield has struggled to gain traction at just 2.9 yards per carry. That said, Wakefield should remain heavily in the mix as Vanderbilt's most experienced running back. Sophomore Keyon Henry-Brooks will likely be involved this week as well. Brooks missed the first two contests with an undisclosed illness. Vanderbilt will be paired against a South Carolina run defense that limited Florida to just 80 rushing yards on 24 carries last week but gave up 133 yards and a pair of scores on the ground against Tennessee in the season opener. Linebacker Ernest Jones (team-high 16 tackles) will lead the Gamecocks' efforts against the run.
South Carolina hasn't looked great defensively, but it's not hard to like the Gamecocks' chances against a Vanderbilt offense that hasn't scored more than 14 points in its last six conference games, especially with a true freshman under center for the Dores. Of course, South Carolina's offense is still a work in progress as well. However, the Gamecocks have shown that they can move the football effectively at times while averaging 25.5 points per game against two of the better defenses in the SEC.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's defense should bounce back from last week's terrible performance with a much-improved effort on Saturday. But it won't be enough against a more talented South Carolina team. Will Muschamp and Co. get their first victory of the season, as the Gamecocks extend their win streak to twelve games against the Commodores.
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 14
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.