The Vanderbilt football program has been short on success matching up with top 25 opponents lately. To put it in layman’s terms, since 2009, Vanderbilt is 0-14 against nationally ranked teams. A mark that Vanderbilt’s offense will try to break in their first road test of the 2013 season Saturday, when the comes knocking at South Carolina.
Saturday’s road trip for Vanderbilt will come down to the team’s offense versus the Gamecocks defense, which suffered big blows piece by piece, ending their three-game win streak to Georgia, in a 41-30 loss in Week 2. This matchup is essential and will decide which team will fall to 0-2 in the SEC and start in a hole in the SEC East standings.
These specific areas played a significant role in the previous contest between the two schools. The game in 2012 came down to this matchup late in the fourth quarter, as a turnover on downs by Vanderbilt iced the game for Carolina, getting the ball back to USC with under two minutes to play and tied the bow to a 17-13 win.
South Carolina held Vanderbilt to a field goal after halftime in the 2012 season opener, a strong start to a defense, which ranked in the top 15 in total defense when the season drew to an end. South Carolina cleared a lot of hurdles last season defensively. After a twist was sent their way by Georgia’s offense in Week 2, this current Cocky defense may have taken two steps back to begin the new year.
Georgia pushed for well over 500 total yards, coming mostly from quarterback Aaron Murray’s retaliation of his performance in the rivalry game his junior season. Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Carolina’s red zone defense was out of sorts from start to finish, four out of five touchdowns came in within the 10-yard line for Georgia.
Vanderbilt capped off their two-game home stretch with a 38-3 win over Austin Peay after a loss to Ole Miss in Week 1. The Commodores are anchoring their ship with their offense so far this year. The Commodores have scored 73 total points in the first two games, but have been inefficient keeping drives alive. Vanderbilt converted three of 15 on third downs against Austin Peay and are currently 12 of 27 for their first two games.
Vanderbilt rushing counter was non-existent, only 62 rushing yards for the game last season hosting Carolina. Vanderbilt outgained South Carolina 276-272 in total offense. Jordan Matthews will have plenty of turns setting up shop for his quarterback in this rematch. Matthews has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games and has grabbed a catch in a game his last 22 games. Matthews had six catches for 111 yards last week after a career day that saw him with 178 receiving yards against Ole Miss. The 2012 game against South Carolina ended on a critical no call for Matthews on a fourth down pass, nevertheless, Matthews began his senior season hauling in a 42-yard pass on a fourth and a mile play against Ole Miss for Vandy’s last lead of the season opener. USC cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton will have to learn on the fly, covering the potential Biletnikoff award winner.
The game will be won with whichever team has the better line play on Saturday. Meanwhile, four of five offensive lineman return for Vanderbilt from last season. Carolina’s front four; Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, J.T Surratt and of course, Jadeveon Clowney, will need to apply better pressure than what’s been seen already on film in the onset of this season. Vandy quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has only been sacked once to start his first year directing the offense, completing 60% of his passes. The Gamecocks have averaged 2.5 sacks a game this season, Clowney’s sack on Aaron Murray was his first of the season, giving him 22 on his career, seven away from tying Eric Norwood’s school record.