Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The Vanderbilt Commodores will play their fourth straight game in Nashville on Saturday night when they take on the 14th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in SEC action at Vanderbilt Stadium.
South Carolina's season started off in very disappointing fashion, as it was embarrassed on its home field in a 52-28 loss at the hands of nationally- ranked Texas A&M. Since then the Gamecocks have rebounded with two straight wins, including a much-needed 38-35 triumph over SEC Eastern Division foe Georgia last weekend, which allowed it to catapult 10 spots in the latest AP Poll.
"Some wins are better than others," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. "I think this one was better than most...We feel very fortunate and blessed and hopefully we can use this as some momentum and start playing a lot better."
The start of the Derek Mason era of Vanderbilt football has been rocky to say the least. It suffered a pair of blowout losses to open the campaign to Temple (37-7) and Ole Miss (41-3), and while it struggled last week against Massachusetts, it dodged a bullet when the Minutemen missed a short field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, as the Commodores held on for their first win, 34-31.
"I'm so proud of our team," Mason said. "(Wins) are tough to come by."
It has been a one-sided rivalry between these two programs, with South Carolina winning 19 of 23 matchups, including five straight.
The Gamecocks' offense was efficient in the Georgia win, amassing 447 yards and 27 first downs. The unit is now averaging 33.0 ppg and 440.3 ypg.
Dylan Thompson's first year as the starting quarterback has gotten off to a solid start. He's completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 903 yards with nine touchdowns (one rushing) and three interceptions, with four of those scores coming against Georgia.
Brandon Wilds (37 carries, 187 yards, TD) and Mike Davis (41 carries, 182 yards, two TDs) have been an effective running back duo who split playing time nearly right down the middle. Davis is dealing with a mild ankle injury but he is probable for Saturday.
Nick Jones has been a great downfield threat in the receiving game, turning 14 catches into 244 yards and two scores. Shaq Roland (12 receptions, 143 yards, TD) and Pharoh Cooper (11 receptions, 130 yards, two TDs) have also been actively involved.
Defensively, the Gamecocks have not lived up to their reputation as one of the best in the nation. In fact, the unit has performed quite poorly in allowing 36.7 ppg and 513.7 ypg.
"I think we definitely got better (after last week's win) but we still left a lot of plays out there," South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Webb said. "We still have a lot of things we need to improve on."
Skai Moore has a team-best 23 tackles and has one of the squad's three sacks. T.J. Gurley is the only other notable playmaker with 18 tackles and an interception.
Vanderbilt's offense has been a mess this season, as it tallies only 14.7 ppg and 251.7 ypg. Its 34 points last week are misleading since two of its touchdowns were scored by the defense and special teams.
After Stephen Rivers (18-of-50, 246 yards, two INTs) proved to be wildly ineffective, Patton Robinette took over as the starting quarterback and has been a big improvement, completing 19-of-27 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown with no picks.
Ralph Webb has been the only consistent positive for the offense, as he's turned 58 carries into 281 yards and a score.
Steven Scheu (nine receptions, 98 yards, TD) and C.J. Duncan (six receptions, 130 yards) headline an underwhelming receiving corps.
Mason is a defensive-minded coach, but his scheme has not yet translated with the team giving up 36.3 ppg and 414.7 ypg, although the unit showed big-play potential last week with the blocked punt and fumble returns for touchdowns.
Stephen Weatherly and Nigel Bowden anchor the unit with 19 tackles apiece. Caleb Azubike is an excellent playmaker in the backfield with 5.0 TFL and 4.0 sacks.