2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 4 - Vanderbilt at South Carolina
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Sept. 24 South Carolina 21 … at Vanderbilt 3
CFN Analysis: South Carolina isn't exactly humming offensively, but Vanderbilt's strong defense had something to do with that. Marcus Lattimore was kept under wraps, running for 77 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and Alshon Jeffery continues to be puzzlingly ineffective with just two catches for 34 yards, but the defense wasn't going to allow the upset. Jadeveon Clowney was every bit the superstar he's expected to be with two sacks, four tackles, and two key forced fumbles, and Melvin Ingram was Melvin Ingram with three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a score. Stephen Garcia's four interceptions will open up the door against for Connor Shaw to take over at the worst possible time. With Auburn coming up, everything is supposed to be working, and it's not. Even so, 4-0 is 4-0. The Gamecocks have too much talent not to figure it all out.
For the first time all year, the lack of offense proved to be too much to overcome. The defense did its part with four takeaways and keeping the USC offensive stars under wraps, but the offense couldn't take advantage of the opportunities. Larry Smith completed 12-of-16 passes, but the throws went nowhere and the running game was non-existent, netting a mere four yards. The offensive line that's been such a problem in pass protection was costly with Smith getting hit way too much and with the forced fumbles changing the game around. With Alabama up next, James Franklin and the coaching staff have to come up with some way to move the passing game down the field a bit more or else the O won't hit the 200 yard mark.
(AP) COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For the first time in his seven years at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier team is 4-0. But like most of his Gamecocks teams, he can't get the offense where he wants it.
No. 12 South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) beat Vanderbilt 21-3 on Saturday night. But Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions, Marcus Lattimore was held under 100 yards rushing and all-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery caught just two passes for 34 yards.
"I apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance," Spurrier said. "But we won the game."
Spurrier had no problem admitting his defense bailed this one out. The Gamecocks held the Commodores (3-1, 1-1) to 77 yards and just five first downs. South Carolina recovered two fumbles, both forced by freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and sacked Vanderbilt's quarterbacks six times. It was the fewest yards allowed by a South Carolina team since holding Wake Forest to 66 yards in November 1987.
"We just played solid, sound defense, put the guys in position and let them play," Spurrier said. "They played well and tackled well."
But great defensive games are just a small comfort to Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida who then revamped offenses in the SEC as a coach at his alma mater, winning a national title and six SEC crowns with his Fun-and-Gun attack.
There wasn't much firepower to South Carolina's offense Saturday night. The Gamecocks' two biggest plays were a 52-yard touchdown pass to Lattimore on a screen pass in the waning moments of the second quarter that put South Carolina ahead 14-3 and a jump ball that fell from a Commodore defender's hands to Ace Sanders for a 51-yard gain.
"I guess those were our two big plays of the night. A screen pass and a jump ball," Spurrier said. "I guess that's the way it goes."
Garcia did throw his third touchdown pass, as many as defensive end Melvin Ingram has now scored this season. Ingram recovered a teammate's fumble in the end zone to go with two sacks, a tackle for an 8-yard loss and swatted away a pass.
Garcia's problems caused Spurrier to throw his headset in the first quarter and his playcalling sheet in the second. By the time Garcia threw his fourth pick in the end zone in the fourth quarter, the Head Ball Coach could do nothing more than slowly shake his head as his senior quarterback spoke to him.
Garcia shrugged off his performance at first. "A win is a win. If we would have lost, hell yeah, it would have been frustrating," he said.
But a few minutes later Garcia seemed to realize that his nonchalance at his own mistakes is one of the things that drives his coach nuts.
"I hope this is the last week we play like this offensively," Garcia said. "I don't think we can survive playing like this."
Spurrier put backup Connor Shaw into the game in the fourth quarter, his first action since getting the nod to start this year's opener, then being benched after an ineffective first quarter. Spurrier took no chances, running Lattimore on six of Shaw's first eight plays. The other two snaps were designed quarterback runs.
Spurrier didn't close the door to a quarterback competition during this week's practices as the Gamecocks prepare for Auburn. But he didn't sound confident he had anyone he thinks can run his offense the way he wants it.
"We'll put whoever out there we can to help us win the game," Spurrier said, adding Garcia will likely start with "the way we're looking at things now."
Lattimore finished 77 yards rushing and 73 receiving. Sanders led South Carolina with four catches for 75 yards. And after eight 100-yard plus games last season, Jeffery has yet to have a 100-yard game this season.
"We're not playing at the top of our game. Hopefully we have a top of our game," Spurrier said.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's defense finally got on track after coming into the game allowing 372 yards a contest. They harassed Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith all night, finally knocking him out of the game in the third quarter. Coach James Franklin refused to update Smith's condition after the game.
Smith was 12-of-16 passing, but they were almost all short throws. He threw for 44 yards and was sacked six times. Backup Jordan Rodgers, whose older brother is Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers, completed his first two passes, but only gained 2 yards.
"We got manhandled up front. Their athleticism up front was obvious," Franklin said. "We struggled with that all night."
After complaining about his offense for most of his 10-minute postgame news conference, Spurrier tried to end on a positive note. But the sigh that started his ending statement gave away his true feelings.
"We're 4-0. We're going to enjoy this victory. We're going to get ready for Auburn," Spurrier said. "We're not going to go in the jar. We aren't going to point fingers at anybody."
Vanderbilt (3-0) at South Carolina (3-0) Sept. 24, 7:00, ESPN2
Here's The Deal … Is Vanderbilt for real? Can first year head coach James Franklin come up with a truly huge win to become the story of the first month of the season?
The Commodores started out the season with wins over Elon and Connecticut, but it was last week's 30-7 thumping of Ole Miss in the SEC opener that set things up for what's now an East showdown.
And South Carolina will have to focus.
The Gamecocks are good enough to win the SEC title and could be deep into the national title mix if they could just come up with a steady effort game in and game out, but they needed to push just as much to beat Navy as they did against Georgia. Considering the team didn't show up until the second half against East Carolina to start the season, it's time to put it all together now, and over the next two games against Auburn and Kentucky before going on the road for three straight SEC games.
Vanderbilt doesn't have the high-powered offense to keep up if the South Carolina offense is rolling, and the defense has yet to face anyone with a passing game, but 3-0 is 3-0, and Franklin doesn't seem to care how the team got there. He has preached from the start that Vanderbilt should be good enough to play with anyone in the SEC, and now his team will get its chance to show it belongs among the big boys.
Why Vanderbilt Might Win: Vanderbilt is making up for mistakes by taking the ball away. The last time the program was relevant – 2008 – it got to a bowl game and finished with a winning record with good defense and by always winning the turnover battle. So far, the Commodores are tied for second in the nation in takeaways with 12, led by a nation-leading ten interceptions. The offense hasn't been air tight, giving the ball away six times, but the ten picks by the defense are three more than NC State and four more than anyone else.
South Carolina's passing game hasn't been working as well as it should. The offense revolves way too much around running back Marcus Lattimore, and that plays into Vandy's hands. The Commodore defensive front has been great to start the season and has been ultra-aggressive at getting into the backfield, leading all SEC teams in sacks and ranking second behind LSU in tackles for loss. Considering the USC passing game is the second-least efficient in the SEC and is only averaging 199 yards per game, any pressure on Stephen Garcia will be a problem, but …
Why South Carolina Might Win: Vanderbilt's passing game is worse. The offense needs takeaways and miscues to capitalize on, and if South Carolina doesn't screw up, or gives Vandy a long field, or makes this a shootout in any way, there won't be a problem. The Commodores have gone against three mediocre defense, yet the quarterbacks have combined to complete just over 50% of their passes with three of the four touchdown throws coming against Elon. USC is a solid +0.67 in turnover margin, the run defense has the athletes to keep the Vandy runners in check, and if all else fails, there's Marcus Lattimore.
Then nation's leading rusher has been used far too much so far, getting 37 carries against Navy and handling the ball 96 times over the first three games. He didn't play last year against Vanderbilt, and the less he gets the ball this week, the better. However, when the offense needed to pound away to take control against Navy, it was Lattimore who got the job done. When things needed to settle down against Georgia, it was Lattimore who produced. As good as Vanderbilt's run defense might be, it won't be able to handle Lattimore if and when he gets on a roll.
What To Watch Out For: Where is Alshon Jeffery? There's a chance he'll be the first receiver taken in next year's NFL Draft – assuming he leaves early – but he's been a forgotten man in the USC offense catching just 12 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, and being held down by Navy for a stunningly low two catches for 35 yards. His two best games of his already great career have come against Vanderbilt, cranking out eight catches for his season-high 161 yards and a touchdown in the 2009 win, and making his season-most nine catches last year for 158 yards and a score.
Vanderbilt needs to have a special day out of Chris Marve. The star linebacker has been fine so far, but he only made four tackles against Ole Miss and seven against Connecticut. This week, he has to make it his personal responsibility to be in on every Lattimore carry and do what he can to keep the big runs to a minimum and he needs to come up with at least ten tackles. However, if he's making a ton of stops, that means the defensive front isn't doing its job. .
What Will Happen: It'll be a battle. This year's Vandy team is far better than the last two versions, but South Carolina struggled to get by in a 14-10 win in 2009 and won 21-7 last year. It'll be just as much of a slugfest, but the Commodores don't have the offense to take advantage of the several opportunities it'll get.
CFN Prediction: South Carolina 27 … Vanderbilt 13
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South Carolina -16 O/U: 52.5
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