The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: SEC foes will collide in Nashville this weekend as the Vanderbilt Commodores welcome the 19th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks to town.
South Carolina opened the season with three consecutive victories, but two of the last three outings have ended in defeat. Last weekend, the Gamecocks were defeated by Kentucky on the road by a 31-28 final to fall to an even 2-2 in SEC action. The highlight of the season to date was a 14-point victory over then top-ranked Alabama.
Vanderbilt fell to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in SEC action with a 43-0 loss at Georgia last weekend. That ugly setback erased the good vibes created by a 52-6 thrashing of Eastern Michigan the previous week.
"This was a well executed plan gone awry," said Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell after the loss to Georgia. "We got whipped in every phase of the game - offense, defense, special teams."
South Carolina owns a 15-4 series advantage over Vanderbilt, which includes a 14-10 victory over the Commodores last season.
The Gamecocks are generating 31.0 ppg and 390.7 total ypg, but their top two offensive weapons are banged up. The good news is that star wideout Alshon Jeffery is expected to play through a thigh injury this weekend. Jeffery has made 40 catches for 690 yards and five touchdowns. As for freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore, who has an injured ankle, it appears he may miss Saturday's tilt. Lattimore has rushed for 538 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he will most certainly be missed. Added pressure will fall on quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 1,326 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions.
In the loss to Kentucky last week, Garcia threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice. Lattimore scored twice on the ground and finished with 79 rushing yards while also catching four passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. That type of versatility is rare. As for Jeffery, he made six catches for 65 yards and a score. Unfortunately, South Carolina lost the time of possession battle by nearly 10 minutes.
"We got to play four quarters of football," said Garcia after the team's second setback in three weeks. "We can't play a half and expect to win in the SEC on the road against anybody, or even at home. We have to put together a four-quarter game."
Opponents are generating 20.8 ppg against South Carolina, which is permitting 371.0 total ypg. The Gamecocks have been tough against the run, yielding a mere 100.2 ypg at a clip of 3.0 ypc. On the other hand, the pass defense needs to improve in a hurry, as only three interceptions have been registered by the Gamecocks. They have allowed 10 passing scores and 270.8 passing ypg. Also, foes have been able to make good on 43 percent of their third down conversion attempts against South Carolina, a figure that the Gamecocks need to improve. Keep an eye on Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram for USC, as both have 4.5 sacks to date.
Kentucky managed 401 total yards against South Carolina last week, including 349 yards through the air. The Wildcats were able to complete 32 of the 42 passes they attempted, and all four touchdowns surrendered by the Gamecocks were passing scores.
"Defensively, we had a lot of great plays on first and second down, but third down, I don't know how many they made, but just about all of them second half," said head coach Steve Spurrier.
Vanderbilt is not a formidable offensive team by any means, as the squad is scoring only 20.8 ppg to go along with 315.2 total ypg. Larry Smith has taken almost every snap for the Commodores and has completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 863 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. The team lacks a threat at wide receiver, enabling opponents to stack the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop the run. The tailback duo of Zac Stacy and Warren Norman have combined for 630 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
By most standards, Vanderbilt is a mediocre defensive team with room for improvement in all aspects. The Commodores are yielding 25.5 ppg and 378.8 total ypg, and the squad has surrendered 17 touchdowns to opposing offenses. With just nine takeaways and eight sacks, there has been a glaring lack of big plays. Still, Casey Hayward deserves credit for registering four of the team's five interceptions.
Obviously, the Vanderbilt offense struggled in the shutout loss to Georgia. The Commodores finished with 140 total yards, including just 58 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Smith completed a mere 5-of-14 passes for 70 yards with an interception before exiting the contest.
"It can't get any worse than today," said Smith. "We just have to move forward."
The Vandy defense was shredded for 547 total yards by Georgia, 315 of which came through the air. Five touchdowns were surrendered to the Bulldog offense, which possessed the ball for over 37 minutes.