Vanderbilt Commodores (3-4, 0-4 SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 SEC)
When: 4:00 PM ET/3:00 PM CT, Saturday, October 28, 2017
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
TV coverage: SEC Network
Online stream: WatchESPN
All-time series: South Carolina leads, 22-4
Last meeting: South Carolina won, 13-10, on September 1, 2016
Odds (via oddsshark.com): South Carolina -6.5; over/under 44.5
Streaks are the name of the day as Vanderbilt travels to South Carolina for a Week 9 matchup.
South Carolina has won back-to-back games against Arkansas and Tennessee; Vanderbilt has now lost four in a row. What’s more, South Carolina has won eight games in a row in the series with Vanderbilt, and though there have been a couple of blowouts, it’s mostly been the Gamecocks winning a string of fairly close games. South Carolina won 13-10 in Nashville last year, and 19-10 in Columbia in 2015.
The series has been more one-sided than you might expect. since joining the conference in 1992, South Carolina has gone 21-4 against Vanderbilt. (To put that in perspective, Georgia is 20-5 against Vanderbilt in the same stretch.) Here are three things to watch.
The inert force vs. the movable object
There’s no nice way to put this: Vanderbilt’s defense has gotten torched over the last four games. The Commodores surrendered 59 points to Alabama, 38 to Florida, 45 to Georgia, and 57 to Ole Miss. On the season, the Commodores’ defense is allowing 6.0 yards per play (and that includes a smothering of Alabama A&M and relatively good performances against Middle Tennessee and Kansas State.)
On the other side, South Carolina’s offense scored 13 points against Kentucky, 17 against Louisiana Tech, 17 against Texas A&M, and 15 against Tennessee. (They did score 48 on Arkansas, but to be fair, they scored three defensive touchdowns in that game.) The Gamecocks’ offense is fairly average in efficiency (76th) and explosiveness (64th), but they’re bad at finishing drives (117th.)
Stopping teams in the red zone has kind of been the forte of Derek Mason’s defenses in the past. There’s a reasonable chance that South Carolina will be able to move the ball on Vanderbilt’s defense. But if Vanderbilt’s defense can hold them to field goals instead of touchdowns, this game might be winnable for the Commodores.
Can Kyle Shurmur get going again?
Vanderbilt’s run game has been pretty awful, and South Carolina’s run defense is strong. So if Vanderbilt is going to get any offense going, Kyle Shurmur’s probably going to have to have some success throwing the ball.
Two weeks ago, it was a nightmare for Shurmur. Ole Miss sacked the quarterback seven times, and he also committed three turnovers. But that performance was very much an anomaly for Shurmur this season; Vanderbilt currently ranks 22nd in Passing S&P+.
Meanwhile, if there’s a vulnerability on the Gamecocks’ defense, opponents have had some success throwing the ball on them. The Gamecocks rank 98th in Passing Success Rate, though they’ve gotten an inordinate number of interceptions this year.
This matchup is more even than the records look
While South Carolina is 5-2, they’ve had some good fortune in getting there. For one thing, they have a +7 turnover margin; their expected turnover margin is 2.9.
And for another, they’ve won a lot of close games. They beat NC State in spite of being doubled up in yardage; they beat Louisiana Tech by a point; and they beat Tennessee by six, when the Vols had the ball in a goal-to-go situation with under a minute left.
Vanderbilt hasn’t looked good at all over its last four games, but the Commodores showed some promise early in the season. We’ll see if Derek Mason took advantage of the bye week to get his team back on track.