KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 ET
SITE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
SERIES: South Carolina leads 16-4 (last meeting, 2010, South Carolina 21-7)
RECORDS: Vanderbilt 3-0, 1-0 SEC; South Carolina 3-0, 1-0 SEC
POLLS: South Carolina (No. 12 AP, No. 10 USA Today)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Vanderbilt: Have success on first and second down. If it is constantly in third-and 6 or longer, Vandy will have problems trying to keep the Gamecocks' defensive ends away from the quarterback. Defensively, the Commodores just contain TB Marcus Lattimore and try to force a mistake or two from QB Stephen Garcia.
-- For South Carolina: Stop the run. The Gamecocks were one of the best nationally at doing that last season, but they struggled stopping both the run and pass against Georgia. Despite allowing 276 rushing yards against Navy, it was well below the Middies' 400-yard average.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
It was no surprise that Vanderbilt was able to make a living running the ball against Ole Miss, finishing with almost 300 yards against a weak front seven. The Commodores will probably try to do the same in this one against a better opponent, albeit one which has had problems stopping the run against Georgia and Navy. One thing Vandy won't want to do is get into passing situations and have to block the Gamecocks' stable of big-time defensive ends, including freshman Jadeveon Clowney.
Using improved play from the front four and a variety of blitzes, Vandy's defense has put opponents in enough problems to force 10 interceptions -- one more than they had in 12 games last year. They make several steps up in class this week as they must contain the league's top running back, sophomore Marcus Lattimore, while trying to keep WR Alshon Jeffrey from making big plays in the passing game. This game will test just how much the defensive line has really improved from the last two years.
With the running game clicking on all cylinders, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier would like to get the passing game on track. Senior QB Stephen Garcia displayed signs of coming out of his 2011 funk against Navy, but still has a way to go. Despite completing 18-of-25 passes for 204 yards, he didn't have a touchdown pass and threw a big interception late in the game. The good news is that for the first time, receivers not named Alshon Jeffery stepped up. Redshirt freshman WR Nick Jones, a high school teammate of RB Marcus Lattimore, caught three passes. Senior WR Jason Barnes, relegated to a reserve role following a sub-par performance in the Gamecocks' opener, caught four passes.
South Carolina is happy to have survived his team's game against Navy, which runs the difficult-to-stop triple option. Now it is back down to business against more traditional offenses. The secondary could receive a jolt as redshirt freshman CB Victor Hampton returns after serving a three-game suspension. Although CB Marty Markett is scheduled to start opposite junior Stephon Gilmore, Hampton will probably receive early playing time if he proves to the coaching staff he can play within the system. The good news is that freshman DE Jadeveon Clowney continues to both improve and impress. He played his best football against Navy in the second half.
Commodores: Vanderbilt picked up points in The Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls, the first time it's done that since jumping out to a 5-0 start in 2008. It earned 11 points in the USA Today (coaches) poll and eight in AP balloting. ... The Vandy-South Carolina series has had a recent history of close games, even in the last two years as Vandy has struggled to 2-10 records. South Carolina won 21-7 last year but it was a 14-10 win for the Gamecocks in Vandy's last visit to Columbia, and Vandy won the previous two meetings 24-17 and 17-6. ... Vandy already has surpassed its win total from last year when it finished 2-10. ... The Commodores are going for their first four-game winning streak since 2008, when they won their first five games of the season (Miami O., South Carolina, Rice, Ole Miss, and Auburn. ... The 23-point final margin against Ole Miss was the widest winning margin for the Commodores over an SEC foe since 1971, when they beat Mississippi State 49-19.
Gamecocks: South Carolina is off to a 3-0 start for the third time under coach Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks were 3-0 in 2007 but struggled after that, finishing with a 6-6 record. The Gamecocks were also 3-0 in 2010, when they finished 9-5. The last time South Carolina opened 4-0 was in the 2001 season, when they got off to a 5-0 start before finishing with a 9-3 mark under coach Lou Holtz. ... Spurrier is 16-2 all-time against
Vandy, 4-2 in his years at South Carolina, 10 when at Florida, and 2-0 while at Duke. ... The Gamecocks have done a good job of winning in Williams-Brice Stadium. In the past two seasons, Carolina has posted a 6-1 home record in each year. South Carolina is 15-2 in its last 17 home games. ... RB Marcus Lattimore's 246 rushing yards in the win over Navy last week was the fourth highest total ever by a South Carolina back (Brandon Bennett 278, Jeff Grantz 260, and Steve Wadiak 256.). Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers' biggest rushing game was 237 against Wake Forest.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Larry Smith -- In the team's first road game of the season, Smith must play the leading role. He'll have to operate the offense in the face of a rabid crowd while making enough plays to keep the offense moving. Most importantly, he has to eliminate the turnovers which have hurt the offense at times in the last two games.
RB Zac Stacy -- Coming off the best game of his career, a 169-yard performance in the rout of Ole Miss, Stacy will likely get early touches as the Commodores try to establish the running game against a foe which has been susceptible to the run at times. Stacy showed big-play ability last week with a TD run of 77 yards.
LB Chris Marve -- If Vandy is to remove Lattimore as a consistent threat in the South Carolina offense, it's likely that Marve will have a big role in it. The senior will need help from the defensive line, which has been much-improved so far, in order to hold up his end of the deal.
WR Alshon Jeffery -- The junior All-American missed the first play of USC's game against Navy for what coach Steve Spurrier termed a violation of team rules. Jeffery has yet to post a 100-yard receiving game this season and is coming off a two-catch, 35-yard performance against the Midshipmen. With only 12 catches and one touchdown on the season, he will be itching to have a breakout game.
LG A. J. Cann -- The redshirt freshman has lived up to his billing as a potential impact performer when he signed with USC. A crucial piece of the puzzle in the plan to upgrade the line under coach Shawn Elliott, he has played consistently throughout the season.
TE Brandon Barden (leg, questionable), WR John Cole (undisclosed, out), RB Warren Norman (knee, doubtful).
SPUR Damario Jeffery (ankle, probable), WR Jason Barnes (hamstring, out), CB Akeem Auguste (foot, out), TB Shon Carson (knee, out).