Columbia, SC – Attempting to rebound from a tough loss at nationally-ranked Georgia last week, the 13th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks return home for another SEC East Division showdown, this time against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Vanderbilt was arguably the biggest surprise in the conference last season (9-4, 5-3 SEC), but after closing out 2012 with seven straight wins, it began the 2013 campaign with a crushing 39-35 defeat to Ole Miss. Luckily for the Commodores, they bounced back last week with an easy 38-3 win over FCS foe Austin Peay. Vandy has not defeated a ranked team since beating the Gamecocks in 2008.
"We are excited about playing South Carolina this week," Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said. "I have tremendous respect for coach Spurrier and how he's done it."
South Carolina started the season off on the right foot by beating border rival North Carolina, 27-10. The Gamecocks took on Georgia in Athens last week in a bout that could very well determine the SEC East's representative in the conference championship game, and after going into the half tied, they lost control late to lose, 41-30.
"It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "They kicked our tails up and down the field, we couldn't stop them and they made a bunch of third-down conversions."
South Carolina has a firm handle on the all-time series with Vanderbilt, winning 18 of 22 bouts, including 17-13 last season.
The Vanderbilt offense has been outstanding, scoring 35 points or more in both games this season, while displaying a nice balance between the pass (286.5 ypg) and the run (147.5 ypg).
The Commodores' most talented playmaker is First Team All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who has racked up 100-yard receiving games in back-to-back outings (giving him 12 for his career). He has 16 receptions for 289 yards (third in the nation) and a pair of touchdowns.
Delivering the ball to Matthews is Austyn Carta-Samuels, who has thrown for 523 yards and three touchdowns, although he has completed fewer than 61 percent of his passes and had tossed a pair of interceptions as well. The signal caller is also a threat with his legs, rushing for a pair of scores.
Jerron Seymour (84 yards, two TDs), Brian Kimbrow (78 yards, TD) and Wesley Tate (56 yards, two TDs) have shared carries out of the backfield to positive results.
Despite blowing a late lead to Ole Miss in the opener, the Commodores defense (21.0 ppg, 314.0 ypg) is still off to a strong start and is expected to once again be one of the better units in the SEC.
Andre Hal (11 tackles, three passes defended), Javon Marshall (11 tackles), Kenny Ladler (10 tackles) and Kyle Woestmann (two sacks) anchor the group. The team has forced just one turnover through two games.
South Carolina's offense has impressed in the early going, scoring 28.5 ppg on 430.0 ypg, although it fell quiet in the second half against Georgia with just six points.
Connor Shaw is a capable dual-threat option at quarterback, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 118 yards. While he has yet to throw an interception, he lost a costly fumble in the third quarter of last week's contest which shifted the momentum.
"I thought I was down, thought my knee was down, but there's no excuse for that," Shaw said after the Georgia loss. "I tried to make a guy miss and they punched it out from behind. That's going to stick with me for a little bit, but somehow we have to get over this loss and bounce back next week."
Mike Davis has assumed the full-time tailback job this season and has responded extremely well, rushing for 264 yards on 28 carries (9.4 ypc) while plunging into the end zone twice.
At receiver, Nick Jones (10 receptions, 118 yards, two TDs) acts as Shaw's favorite target with regard to moving the chains, while Shaq Roland (five receptions, 123 yards, TD) is the team's big-play threat.
The Gamecocks defense (25.5 ppg, 414.5 ypg) came into the season with a lot of hype thanks in large part to the return of star Jadeveon Clowney, but they were torched by Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs last weekend to the tune of 536 yards.
T.J. Gurley is one of the conference's top tacklers with 20 stops. Clowney's season has gotten off to a slow start by his lofty standards, as he has just 2.0 TFL and one sack, but he's also picked up three QB hurries.
"The biggest thing is to be aware of him," Franklin said of Clowney. "He is going to have an impact in the game, but what you can't afford him to do is have a huge impact on the game."