On the first night of college football, Vanderbilt takes on South Carolina at the revamped Vanderbilt Stadium. Below is a breakdown of what to look for and what Vanderbilt must do to win the game.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
1. Protect, Protect, Protect the Quarterback
South Carolina has an elite defensive line spearheaded by stud sophomore Jadaveon Clowney. It is likely that the scarcocks are going to mix up their looks along their defensive front to try and free Clowney for straight avenues to Rodgers. Vandy has to mitigate this havoc by playing solid assignments. The South Carolina defensive line will get theirs, but the key will be solid protection which limits the number of shots Rodgers takes.
2. Keep the South Carolina Defense Off Balance
With all due respect to the many Gamecocks who remind me constantly of Clowney's status on the South Carolina honor roll, I am firmly convinced that he can be outwitted with solid game planning. That is why Vanderbilt can help themselves greatly with creative play-calling that will keep the South Carolina pass rush off balance. This will also enable Vanderbilt to accomplish the number one thing that they need to do to win the game....
3. Establish the Run Game
South Carolina's defensive weakness is their secondary, which lost a great deal to graduation, as well as injuries that will keep them out of the game. However, South Carolina will be banking on the defensive front seven to make the secondary's job easier. Franklin's number one job is to keep the playbook as wide open as possible on every down, and that means establishing a solid, consistent run game. In 3rd and less than 5 situations, the Commodores will be able to make big plays when the opportunity strikes or simply negate the pass rush wit quick passes, draws, and screens. The options in 3rd and 13 situations are significantly less appealing.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
1. Keep Them Off Schedule
South Carolina will rely heavily on Marcus Lattimore to keep the offense in manageable down and distance situations. Vanderbilt would be well served if they make this a game Connor Shaw must win rather than Lattimore. Shaw is an excellent scrambling quarterback, but an average passer. However, Shaw can certainly do damage if Lattimore is effectively setting the table, and it would help if Lattimore is not in an easy position to pick up first downs.
2. Limit Big Plays
However Vandy wants to do it, this is a huge key to Commodore victory. Vandy cannot give up huge chunks of yardage quickly. They need to make the Gamecocks fight for every single yard. Lattimore is going to get his, but I will be watching his yards per carry to see just how effective he is being in the game. Furthermore, Vanderbilt's secondary cannot give up big passes. Shaw is not going to put passes in small windows, but he can do damage against a fooled defense. Playing assignments and not giving up big plays is key.
3. Force Turnovers
Vandy excelled in forcing turnovers and getting sacks last season. Turnovers are likely to turn the tide in what should be a close game. I am of the opinion that this is a vastly underrated secondary and it is likely they will be tested. Getting picks will be crucial to giving the Dores an advantage in the game.
South Carolina is an excellent team that remembers all too well the back-to-back losses against the Commodores. Spurrier will have his team ready to play. Vanderbilt has had this game on their minds all summer, but their utmost focus will be required to win against a talented squad. Regardless, I believe it will be a close game, and that it will be quite worthy of ESPN's opening broadcast.