King: Don't overlook the 'Dores

TheBigSpur.com’s Justin King takes a look at the season-opening game against Vanderbilt, which includes a video highlight package.

Vanderbilt Highlights

Game: South Carolina Gamecocks Vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Date: August 30, 2012
Location: Commodore Stadium (Nashville, Tennessee)
Television: ESPN (ESPN3.com)

Ready, set, go back.

The Vanderbilt Commodores have historically been a thorn in the side of bigger SEC programs. They were always viewed as a W on the schedule, but it was never an easy W. They were the team that would come into your stadium and hold you to a season low in every meaningful statistic, and lose 17-14.

Except 2007 and 2008… but I don’t really want to go there.

They also traditionally haven’t had the greatest fan support. Take this game against Arkansas for example.

But that’s changing.

James Franklin came in and talked the talk. He said all the right things and got “could-care-less” fan base to actually start caring (a little). He said things like “world-class education” (true), “I only hire assistants with hot wives”, (actually a logical argument there), and “I love the Titans but we’re Nashville’s team” (stretching it) meanwhile all the other SEC programs sat back and rolled their eyes.

A year later he might not have their respect, but he at least has their attention.

The 2011 season started off poor for the ‘Dores, but once Jordan Rodgers took over at quarterback, the team really began to click. He didn’t have the most incredible stats (108 of 216, 1,524 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INTs), but he had that certain swagger about him that helped the team gain confidence, and there is nothing more dangerous than a team that believes they can win.

The Commodores finished the season with a Liberty Bowl loss to Cincinnati and a 6-7 record, but they made it to a bowl; a rare feat in Nashville, especially under a first year coach.

They also had 18 plays for over 40 yards last season, good for first in the SEC.

Today

Rodgers is back under center and will surely be improved. He is an intelligent player who proved last season he isn’t afraid of competition.

Plus he just needs to ask his older brother for some pointers. You may have heard of him...

The cast surrounding Rodgers looks as though it will be improved as well, particularly at the skill positions. They have the leading returning rusher in the SEC (how strange does that sound?) coming back in running back Zac Stacy, and a load of talent at wide receiver.

Stacy took over after Warren Norman was lost due to a knee injury and never looked back. Rushing for over 1,193 yards (5.9 yard average), he shattered the single-season rushing record at Vanderbilt … doing things like this along the way.

He is strong, shifty, and has excellent vision. There is a good chance that the loss of Travian Robertson due to graduation will be seen here as the Gamecocks need someone (or two) to step up and be that rock in the center of the defensive line (I’m looking at you, Kelsey Quarles), otherwise Stacy will skip, scoot, and scramble his way to a 100+ yard game.

At wide receiver Vanderbilt has plenty of talent with Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews. Boyd had eight touchdown catches in his redshirt freshman year, is 6’5, and has been clocked as fast as 4.5 in the 40 yard dash. Montgomery looks and plays like Alshon Jeffery. I mean literally, watch this play and tell me you didn’t think Alshon switched uniforms for half a second .

Vanderbilt’s biggest issues appear to be on the defensive side of the ball. The ‘Dores return seven starters on paper, but they lose a ton of talent, especially at the linebacker position with the departure of four-year starter Chris Marve. Also noticeably absent will be Tim Fugger who led the team in sacks last year.

Preventing the ’07 and ’08 effect

If there is a bright side to the debacle of those two seasons, it is that Spurrier can literally play a lowlight reel to remind the team why it is important to never (ever…ever) overlook Vanderbilt.

However, while this isn’t your daddy’s Vandy, it isn’t your grandfather’s Gamecocks either.

When Vanderbilt came into Williams-Brice last year the Gamecocks played a putrid game; from a quarterbacking standpoint it might be the ugliest game I have ever seen. South Carolina struggled to get out of its own way (or Stephen Garcia’s, depending on how you look at it), and yet they still won decisively.

Yes it was before the emergence of Jordan Rodgers and yes it was in front of a loud Gamecock crowd, but the talent gap was quite visible and it is only going to become larger this season.

Vanderbilt’s offensive line showed improvement last season, but it still wasn’t capable of handing the more physical defensive lines it faced, and that is exactly what the Gamecocks possess, particularly at the defensive end position with Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. As long as the Gamecocks find a presence in the middle of the line (something I feel confident they will with Kelsey Quarles and Byron “the mountain” Jerideau standing in), Stacy shouldn’t have major lanes to run through and Rodgers won’t have time to find his receivers.

Speaking of those receivers, as long as Akeem Auguste shakes off the rust early and Victor Hampton plays up to the level we all know he is capable of, the Gamecocks should be fine.

Vanderbilt will get its plays in, but it shouldn’t be anything the Gamecocks can’t match. Lattimore will shake off his rust and remind everyone why he is the best back in the SEC, not Knile Davis and not Zac Stacy. Connor Shaw should be able to gash Vandy’s defense with slants to Ace Sanders all night, and the Gamecocks will roll to a solid 1-0 start in the SEC.

NCAA 13 Simulation Projections

Sim 1: Gamecocks 45-17
Sim 2: Gamecocks 38-10
Sim 3: Gamecocks 24-7

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