A Game Day Preview: The Keys To The Game

A Game Day Preview: The Keys To The Game

When the Gamecocks take the field today against the Commodores, there are lingering questions that will be answered. Here are your keys to today's game ...

Keys To The Game

South Carolina fans have waited for this one since last November. South Carolina is in need of a big win in order to remove the taste of the pasting they took from Clemson last year that ended their season.

Questions:

Has Dondrial Pinkins learned to read defenses - will he look his receivers off?

Will the Gamecock wide receivers catch catchable balls?

How durable is the offensive line and how quickly will depth develop?

Is the new Rick Minter defense up to the task? Will they apply pressure to Cutler?

How will the young and inexperienced Gamecock cornerbacks react in a live game situation?

Do the Gamecocks have a kicking game? What sort of field goal range are they capable of?

Will the new coaches show a positive effect on this football team?

Will the Gamecock coaches out-coach their opponents at half time in terms of adjustments?

Will Skip Holtz's move back into the box prove to be an advantage for the offense?

Running Games:

South Carolina has the hosses in the backfield, perhaps one of the deeper tailback corps in the SEC, to make this a long day for the Commodores. It would not surprise us to see Gonzie Gray start the game but expect Demetris Summers, Daccus Turman and Cory Boyd to receive the majority of the carries. Lou Holtz would like to dominate this game with a bruising rushing attack and Vanderbilt knows that. For the Gamecocks to take control they are going to have to be able to pound the ball on Vandy and wear them down heading into the second half when depth should prove to be in favor of the Gamecocks. If Vandy is able to stack the box on the Gamecocks early - that will not be a good sign. What could be the back breaker for the Dores is Dondrial Pinkins' ability to run the ball - he would be a full back or running back for most other teams in the country. Pinkins not only has the ability to run the ball when pressured, but he tends to punish tacklers in the process.

Vanderbilt is touted as a passing team, but do not overlook their ability to run the ball. They have a couple of good looking backs, that if given the chance, could have a big day against the Gamecock defense. It would spell trouble for the Gamecocks if South Carolina allows Vandy to get their rushing attack on track. The Gamecocks must stuff the Vandy running game and force Cutler to go to the air attack on almost every down. Vandy will do everything in the power to challenge the Gamecock defensive line and get a Dore running game going today.

Passing Games:

South Carolina's Dondrial Pinkins needs to get a couple of completions under his belt early for confidence's sake. To do that expect the Gamecock coaches to try the long ball once or twice, early, because it is Pinkins' best pass and it will loosen up the Vandy coverage whether it is completed or not Yet for long term success during the course of this game Pinkins is going to have to hit his tight ends and wide receivers over the middle in the ten to fifteen yard range ... and his backs in the flats. Additionally we expect to see SC utilize their slot backs, Gonzie Gray and Andrea Gause, against a Vandy defense that has not seen a Gamecock utility player on offense since the Ryan Brewer days. Look deep, dump short could be the play of the day if the Gamecocks hit long early. And we cannot stress this enough; the South Carolina tight ends need to be given a chance to shine today. It could be the difference in the game.

Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler is going to throw the ball all over the place in an attempt to challenge the young Gamecock cornerbacks. The only way to take some of the pressure off of Fred Bennett, Tremaine Tyler and Johnathan Joseph is to bring it from the line, especially the ends. Moe Thompson, George Gause and DeAdrian Coley are going to be coming on every down. Also expect the Gamecock linebackers to do a lot of stunting and shooting the gaps. SC needs a sack or two out of their backers today. Jason Capers and Darrell Shropshire are both looking for sacks today as well and believe they will get them up the middle before the ends Thomas and Gause get their chance.

Kicking Game:

South Carolina will be fine punting the ball. Extra points are safe as well. Kick off coverage should be good with the athletes the Gamecock will field, both on the coverage and return teams actually. The great unknown is what kind of range SC will have in the field goal kicking department. For that reason, provided the Gamecock defense is in control, expect Lou Holtz to give his field goal kicker plenty of opportunities to kick field goals out to a range of 40 - 45 yards. In other words SC will manufacture a few field goal opportunities. Holtz will ladder is field goal kicker in an attempt to test his range, starting short and going long before the day is over. Let's hope the long one is not a game winning attempt or the Gamecocks will be in trouble. Noah Whiteside, Matthew Thomas and Demetris Summers are expected to return balls today.

Vanderbilt has had one of the better kicking games in the conference. They make few mistakes and they feel their field goal kicker is good from 45 yards in. They have a sound punting game, sound coverage and return teams. They are solid, on paper at least, in all aspects of Special Teams this season. Of course, for both teams, you never know until the first game is played.

Intangibles:

South Carolina has played better on the road the past couple of seasons than they have at home. We believe this is because Dondrial Pinkins enjoys the road games and feels less pressure than he does at Williams-Brice in front of the hometown fans. Also, the Gamecocks want to put the Clemson game behind them with a convincing win over an inferior team in terms of talent and depth. Also, the Gamecocks do not need to suffer any injuries to their offensive line or their big three wide receivers of Whiteside, Thomas or Williamson.

Vanderbilt has home field advantage and their fans are sky high heading into this 2004 campaign. They will probably be louder and in bigger numbers today than at any other time since Coach Bobby Johnson took over the program. Johnson has been quietly vocal with friends and boosters that he believes his Commodores can and will win this game. He has his team believing it as well. If this game is close at the end of the first half the Dores will believe they can win it in the second half. By close we mean 'score wise.'

The Bottom Line:

South Carolina needs to rush for over 200 yards and pass for over 200 yards. If they do that then they win this game hands down. As those numbers decrease the closer this game will be played - the closer the outcome. Rushing for 150 yards and passing for 150 yards - and this becomes a very close game. The Gamecock defense needs to stuff the Vandy rushing attack and apply a lot of pressure to Jay Cutler. If Cutler is given all day to throw the ball he will hurt the young SC secondary and frustrate them to the point of eventual meltdown. The Gamecocks will lose this game if they turn the ball over three times or more, especially in key situations. SC needs to come out of this game today in the plus (+) 3 side of the turnover margin. South Carolina is going to have to convert on third down. Conversely they need to shut the Commodores down when Vandy finds themselves in third and long situations. South Carolina needs to take control of the game and quiet the Vandy crowd early.

Vanderbilt does not make a lot of mental errors, especially since Bobby Johnson took over the program. Vandy can stay in this game and even win it if they play error free ball, if they win the battle of turnovers and if their Special Teams outplay the Gamecocks. If Cutler's timing is on and he is able to get the quick-hitters off, thus negating the Gamecock rush, then the Dores have a chance to win this game. Vanderbilt has the potential to gain yards on the ground but they will need to get their passing game going in order to do so with any regularity. If Vanderbilt's offensive gameplan is stunted by the Gamecocks early you could see signs of Dore frustration and that will spell doom for the Admirals. However, if their offensive gameplan is successful early that will give their defense confidence and it could play against the Gamecocks on the road.

Prediction:

The Gamecocks get it going early and come out of this game with at least a 10 point victory.

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