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NCAA Football South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina Gamecocks: What We Learned In Week 3, What To Look For In Week 4

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Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1) defense does have the potential to be great, after all. This unit bounced back with a much better performance against Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2) following a Week 2 bloodletting at the hands of Georgia (1-1, 1-0). Carolina held the Commodores to just 268 total yards, 14 first downs and forced two turnovers as it evened its record in SEC play. The Gamecocks were especially tough on third down, limiting Vandy to only two conversions on 12 attempts.

South Carolina’s defense forced Vanderbilt to punt on its first five possessions, helping the Gamecocks jump out to a 28-0 second-quarter lead. If not for costly turnovers, South Carolina could have gone on to rout Vanderbilt.

The Commodores’ first score came on a one-play, one-yard drive, which was set up by a late second-quarter interception thrown by Dylan Thompson that was returned to the Gamecocks’ 1-yard-line. After adding a field goal before halftime, Vandy was held scoreless in the third quarter.

But a shanked punt set the Commodores up with another short field at the end of the third. Vandy drove 49 yards and scored early in the fourth to make the score 35-17. South Carolina then fumbled the ball away on the ensuing kickoff, and Vanderbilt took advantage with a one-play, 19-yard scoring drive that cut the lead down to 35-25.

The following Vanderbilt drive was the only one in which the Commodores began deep in their territory and drove the ball inside the Carolina red zone. It also yielded no points, as defensive back Jimmy Legree picked off a third-and-goal pass to end the threat.

All told, two of Vanderbilt’s four scoring drives were less than 20 yards. All in all, the Carolina defense played much better. The concern heading into the Week 5 game at 3-0 Central Florida is ball security and special teams play. If the Gamecocks had played better in those areas, the Vanderbilt game wouldn’t have been remotely close.

What to look for in Week 4: How Jadeveon Clowney’s foot injury progresses. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Gamecocks, as their star defensive end is dealing with painful bone spurs in his right foot. Clowney said he plans to play through the pain but the open date should certainly benefit him greatly.

Scott Page is a college football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, Like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.