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Gamecock Gameday: Football Travels To Vanderbilt For Season Opener
Football  . 

Gamecock Gameday: Football Travels To Vanderbilt For Season Opener

Aug. 31, 2016

The 2016 South Carolina football season and the Will Muschamp Era gets underway Thursday, September 1, when the Gamecocks travel to Nashville, Tenn. to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in an SEC Eastern Division showdown. The 8 p.m. ET game will be televised nationally by ESPN with Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore in the booth and Quint Kessenich on the sidelines.


2016 marks the 123rd season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 110th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina is 24 games over the .500 mark with an all-time record of 586-562-44.


The 2016 season marks South Carolina’s 25th year in the SEC. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned the SEC Eastern Division title in the 2010 season. The Gamecocks are 82-109-1 (.430) all-time in SEC regular-season play, but are 27-21 (.563) in conference action since the start of the 2010 season.


The Gamecocks are very familiar with Thursday night games. Since 2005, Carolina has played 13 Thursday night ESPN contests, posting a 10-3 record in those contests. The Gamecocks are 6-2 at home, 3-1 on the road and 1-0 in neutral site games played on Thursday since `05.


The Gamecocks have posted an 8-1 record when they have opened the season on a Thursday since the start of the 2005 season, including a 3-0 mark when playing on the road. That includes a 17-13 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on August 30, 2012.


Here are the top opening day performances in Carolina history:

100-yard Rushing Games In Season Openers
1. 187 Duce Staley, UCF (1996)
2. 160 Harold Green, Duke (1989)
3. 153 George Rogers, Pacific (1980)
4. 120 Brandon Bennett, Georgia (1994)
5. 118 Derek Watson, NC State (1999)
6. 115 Mike Davis, North Carolina (2013)
7. 114 Derek Watson, N. Mexico St.(2000)
8. 113 Mike Dingle, Duke (1990)
113 Carl West, Pacific (1980)
10. 112 Marcus Lattimore, E. Carolina (2011)
11. 110 Marcus Lattimore, Vanderbilt (2012)
12. 104 Carl Brazell, Wofford (1955)
13. 103 Earl Clary, Duke (1931)
14. 102 Jeff Grantz, Georgia Tech (1973)
15. 101 Mike Davis,NC State (2008)
16. 100 Harold Green, North Carolina (1988)

200-yard Passing Games In Season Openers
1. 405 Steve Taneyhill, Georgia (1994)
2. 366 Dylan Thompson, Texas A&M (2014)
3. 330 Blake Mitchell, UCF (2005)
4. 329 Todd Ellis, Appalachian State (1987)
5. 318 Bill Troup, Virginia (1972)
6. 290 Todd Ellis, North Carolina (1988)
7. 238 Allen Mitchell, The Citadel (1984)
8. 236 Anthony Wright, UCF (1996)
9. 220 Phil Petty, Boise State (2001)

100-yard Receiving Games In Season Openers
1. 146 Ira Hillary, The Citadel (1984)
2. 140 Jackie Brown, Virginia (1972)
3. 134 Stanley Pritchett, Georgia (1995)
4. 120 Zola Davis, UCF (1997)
5. 113 Nick Jones, Texas A&M (2014)
6. 110 Mike Haggard, Virginia (1972)
7. 106 Alshon Jeffery, Southern Miss (2010) `


This is the 26th all-time meeting between South Carolina and Vanderbilt, with the Gamecocks holding a 21-4 advantage, including a 10-2 mark when the teams have met in Columbia and an 11-2 record when the games have been played in Nashville. The teams met just once (1961) before they became SEC Eastern Division rivals beginning in 1992, and have met every year since.


The Gamecocks have won seven-straight in the series, matching their longest winning streak in the series, and 14 of the last 16 meetings between these two SEC Eastern Division rivals. Of the Division I FBS opponents against whom the Gamecocks have at least 10 all-time meetings, Carolina has its best winning percentage against Vanderbilt at .840. In the previous 25 outings, Vanderbilt has tallied more than 17 points just five times (24 in 2003, 28 in 2005, 24 in 2008, 25 in 2013 and a record-high 34 in 2014).


Vanderbilt’s four wins in the series have come in back-to-back fashion on two occasions – first in 1998 and `99, then again in 2007 and `08. Those four wins have been by a combined total of 22 points (17-14, 11-10, 17-6 and 24-17).


The Gamecocks made a coaching change during the game week, with interim Shawn Elliott taking over for Steve Spurrier, who stepped down from his post. The squad responded with a 19-10 victory in Columbia on October 17, 2015. Elliott Fry booted four field goals to account for most of the scoring. Brandon Wilds carried 24 times for 120 yards and Pharoh Cooper logged 160 yards on seven catches, including a 78-yard scoring strike from Perry Orth in the third quarter that gave the Gamecocks a lead they would not relinquish. The Carolina defense picked off three passes in the contest.


In what became the highest scoring game in the series, the Gamecocks outlasted the Commodores by a 48-34 count in a shootout in Nashville on September 20, 2014. Dylan Thompson completed 22-of-34 passes for 237 yards and three scores, with Pharoh Cooper on the receiving end of 10 of those completions for 114 yards. Brison Williams added a 53-yard interception return for a score. Darrius Sims kept Vandy in the contest with a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns, scoring from 91 and 100 yards.


Will Muschamp is 3-1 in four games as a head coach against the Commodores, including a 2-0 mark at Vanderbilt Stadium, all coming as the head coach of the Florida Gators. He was a 26-21 winner in 2011 in “The Swamp,” posted a 31-17 win in Nashville in 2012, dropped a 34-17 decision at home in 2013, then won by a 34-10 count in Nashville in 2014.


Mark the Gamecocks’ 16th win in their last 17 season openers. Prior to the 2014 season-opening loss to Texas A&M, South Carolina had won 14-straight openers dating back to 2000. South Carolina is 81-37-4 (.680) in 122 season openers.

Extend the Gamecocks’ winning streak over Vanderbilt to eight-straight games, which would be the longest in the series. South Carolina has won each of the last seven meetings with the Commodores, which matches their longest winning streak over Vandy, set originally from 2000-06.

Improve Will Muschamp’s record to a perfect 5-0 record in season-opening games as a head coach. He led the Florida Gators to season-opening wins over FAU (41-3), Bowling Green (27-14), Toledo (24-6) and Eastern Michigan (65-0) from 2011-14, respectively.

Match the Gamecocks’ SEC win total from a season ago. South Carolina went just 1-7 in SEC play last season, with their lone win coming against Vanderbilt, a 19-10 win in Columbia.


South Carolina football concluded its 122nd season of intercollegiate football in 2015 with a record of 3-9, including a 1-7 mark in the SEC. Five of the losses were decided by a combined total of 20 points. The Gamecocks had their school record of 11-straight seasons with at least a .500 record snapped in the process.


The Gamecocks had two head coaches during the 2015 season. Steve Spurrier, the winningest football coach in South Carolina history, stepped down after a 2-4 start to the season. The reins were turned over to co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. Despite bringing a renewed energy to the team, the Gamecocks, under Elliott, were able to win just one of their final six games. Spurrier finished his Carolina career with a record of 86-49 (.637) and a 26-year collegiate coaching mark of 228-89-2 (.718).


While winning just three games last season including a victory over No. 15 North Carolina, the Gamecocks had their share of close losses. Five of their setbacks were within one score and were decided by a total of 20 points, including losses to Kentucky (by 4), at Texas A&M (7), at Tennessee (3), The Citadel (1) and Clemson (5). Four of their losses came to teams ranked in the AP’s final top-25 (#2 Clemson, #16 LSU, #22 Tennessee and #25 Florida), while another setback came at Georgia, ranked 24th in the final Coaches’ poll.


A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN: Will Muschamp was introduced as the 34th head football coach at the South Carolina on December 7, 2015. A 21-year coaching veteran, Muschamp, a 1994 graduate of Georgia, has spent 13 years in the SEC, including four as the head coach at Florida, where he posted a 28-21 record from 2011-14. He was recognized as the SEC Coach of the Year in 2012 after an 11-win campaign. Last season, he served as the defensive coordinator at Auburn. Muschamp has coached in the SEC Championship Game twice and once in the Big 12 Championship Game, winning all three. He has also coached in two national championship games, helping LSU win the national title in 2003.


With the exception of holdover offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, Coach Muschamp brought an entirely new coaching staff to Columbia. Bobby Bentley (Running Backs), Coleman Hutzler (Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers), Bryan McClendon (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers), Mike Peterson (Outside Linebackers), Travaris Robinson (Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs), Kurt Roper (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks), Lance Thompson (Assistant Head Coach – Defense/Defensive Line), and Pat Washington (Tight Ends) are the newcomers. Coach Muschamp has also beefed up the off-the-field support staff with a number of football analysts and others focused on recruiting to go along with the usual number of graduate assistants.


The SEC did Will Muschamp no favors when they put together the 2016 schedule. The Gamecocks will play three conference road games in 2016 before entertaining an SEC opponent at home. Carolina will play at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky before finally seeing an SEC opponent in Williams-Brice Stadium when Texas A&M comes to Columbia on October 1. Only Texas A&M (at Auburn, vs. Arkansas in Arlington, at South Carolina) comes close to matching the Gamecocks’ conference start. It marks the first time in Carolina history that the team has opened with three conference road games before playing a conference home game.


The Gamecocks will play five-straight home games during the 2016 season. Between October 1 and November 5, Texas A&M, Georgia, UMass, Tennessee and Missouri will venture to Williams-Brice Stadium, with a bye week scheduled for October 15. Auburn is the only other school in the country with five-consecutive home games on its slate this season. The last time South Carolina had five-straight home games on its schedule was in 1988 when the Gamecocks opened the season against North Carolina, Western Carolina, East Carolina, Georgia and Appalachian State.


BREAKING IT DOWN: The 117-man roster consists of 19 seniors, 20 juniors, 25 sophomores, 16 redshirt freshmen and 37 true freshmen.


The Gamecocks welcome 44 returning letterwinners to begin the 2016 fall camp. The 44 lettermen consist of 19 offensive players, 21 defensive players and four special teams players.


The Gamecocks return 45 percent of their rushing yards, 93 percent of their passing yards and 27 percent of their receiving yards from a year ago. The top returning rushers are Lorenzo Nuñez (375 yards) and David Williams (299). Perry Orth (1,929 yards) and Lorenzo Nuñez (376) are the top returning passers, while Deebo Samuel (12 catches, 161 yards) and Matrick Belton (11 for 121) are the top two returning receivers. Seven of the squad’s top 11 tacklers return for the 2016 season, including Skai Moore (111 tackles) and T.J. Holloman (63), although Moore will sit out the season as a redshirt following offseason neck surgery.


The Gamecocks list 11 returning starters from the 2015 squad (four on offense, five on defense and two specialists). The returning offensive starters are WR Matrick Belton, OC Alan Knott, QB Perry Orth and OT Mason Zandi. The returning defensive starters include SS Jordan Diggs, LB T.J. Holloman, DE Marquavius Lewis, LB Skai Moore, and DT Taylor Stallworth. The returning specialists are PK Elliott Fry and P Sean Kelly. Belton, Orth, Fry and Kelly all began their Gamecock careers as walk-ons.


The Gamecocks had six players start every game in 2015, three on each side of the ball. On offense, WR Pharoh Cooper, LT Brandon Shell and RG Will Sport made every start. On defense, DT Gerald Dixon Jr., DE Marquavius Lewis and FS Isaiah Johnson started each contest. Lewis is the only player who will return in 2016.


The Gamecocks lost 25 lettermen from last year’s squad, including 14 on offense, 10 on defense and one special teams performer.


The Gamecocks said goodbye to 13 starters off last season’s 3-9 squad. The departing starters include TE Jerell Adams, WR Pharoh Cooper, WR Carlton Heard, LG Mike Matulis, LT Brandon Shell, RG Will Sport and TB Brandon Wilds on offense and DE Gerald Dixon, DT Gerald Dixon Jr., Spur T.J. Gurley, CB Al Harris Jr., CB Rico McWilliams, and FS Isaiah Johnson on defense.


The Gamecocks have started five true freshmen in the season opener since the start of the 2009 season. The list includes Stephon Gilmore (2009), Marcus Lattimore (2010), Jadeveon Clowney (2011), Bryson Allen-Williams (2014) and Al Harris Jr. (2014).


The Gamecocks placed 28 players on the 2015 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Among those who made the SEC Honor Roll include returnees Rivers Bedenbaugh, Jordan Diggs, Jalen Dread, Elliott Fry, Kelsey Griffin, Terry Googer, Shannon James, Chris Lammons, Nick McGriff, Perry Orth, Jasper Sasser, Michael Scarnecchia, Demetrius Smalls, D.J. Smith, Donell Stanley and Rod Talley.


The Gamecocks have five players on their roster who have already earned their undergraduate degree. Included in the list are Jordan Diggs, Chaz Elder, Abu Lamin, Chris Moody and Mason Zandi.


The Gamecocks are 24-7 in their last 31 home games (.774) and 40-10 (.800) in their last 50 home games, including a school-record 18-game game home winning streak during that span. The school’s previous longest home winning streak was 15 games, set from 1978-80.


South Carolina has won 21 of its last 24 non-conference games. The Gamecocks had their 18-game non-conference winning streak snapped in the 2014 regular season finale at Clemson, then lost the final two games of the 2015 regular season to non-conference in-state foes in The Citadel and Clemson. Prior to the Clemson loss at the end of the 2014 campaign, Carolina’s last non-conference loss came to Florida State in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl.


South Carolina had won 22-straight home games against non-conference opponents before dropping the final two games of the 2015 regular season to non-conference in-state foes in The Citadel and Clemson. Prior to that, the last home loss to a non-conference team was to Clemson in the 2007 regular-season finale.


ROAD KILL: South Carolina went winless in five tries on the road in 2015, with setbacks at Georgia, at Missouri, at LSU, at Texas A&M and at Tennessee, and have lost their last six true road contests. However, they are 14-13 in their last 27 true road games. Eight of their 13 road losses in that stretch came to teams ranked in the top-25 in the country, including seven in the top-11: at No. 8 Arkansas in 2011, at No. 9 LSU and No. 3 Florida in 2012, at No. 11 Georgia in 2013, at No. 5 Auburn and at No. 23 Clemson in 2014; and at No. 7 Georgia and No. 7 LSU in 2015. Carolina’s last road win came in overtime at Florida on November 15, 2014.


South Carolina ranked 16th in the nation in home attendance during the 2015 season, as an average crowd of 78,822 filed in to Williams-Brice Stadium on six occasions, just shy of the 80,250 capacity. That total came in spite of losing one scheduled home game, as the LSU contest was moved to Baton Rouge due to extensive flooding in Columbia and throughout the Midlands.


The Gamecocks brought in a record number six high school recruits who graduated a semester early and enrolled in time for spring drills in 2016. Here is the list of the Gamecocks who have enrolled early since 2006: 2006: Clark Gaston
2007: Stephen Garcia, Travian Robertson
2008: Jay Spearman, C.C. Whitlock, Shaq Wilson
2009: Jarvis Giles, Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman
2010: Connor Shaw
2011: Martay Mattox
2012: Kelvin Rainey, Brock Stadnik, Clayton Stadnik
2013: Connor Mitch, D.J. Park
2014: None
2015: Jalen Henry, Christian Owens, Sherrod Pittman, Jerad Washington
2016: Bryan Edwards, C.J. Freeman, Brandon McIlwain, Chris Smith, Kobe Smith, Keir Thomas


The Gamecocks had another successful February signing day, just missing out on another top-25 ranked class despite a coaching change. Here are the recent recruiting class rankings according to Rivals and Scout respectively:

Year Rivals/Scout
2002: 11/18
2003: 8/15
2004: 35/28
2005: 23/20
2006: 24/33
2007: 6/7
2008: 22/34
2009: 12/13
2010: 24/34
2011: 18/11
2012: 19/13
2013: 16/24
2014: 16/24
2015: 19/20
2016: 28/26


The Gamecocks list just four seniors on the offensive side of the ball in Matrick Belton, Perry Orth, Darius Paulk and Mason Zandi. All four are redshirt seniors. Zandi is the only one of the four to begin his collegiate career at South Carolina and the only one who came to Columbia as a scholarship player. Only Minnesota (3), Old Dominion (4), Florida (4) and Troy (4) have as few seniors on offense as do the Gamecocks.


QUARTERBACK ROULETTE: The Gamecocks could play as many as three quarterbacks in the opener. Senior Perry Orth is the only experienced signal-caller, with 14 games and eight starts under his belt. Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley are a pair of true freshmen who have impressed in camp. McIlwain enrolled in January and went through spring drills, while Bentley, the son of Gamecocks’ running backs coach Bobby Bentley, joined the squad in the summer after graduating from high school a year early.


The Gamecocks’ returning cast of wide receivers has combined for just 28 catches and 356 yards. The man counted on to be next in a line of outstanding Carolina wide receivers that includes Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley, Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington is redshirt sophomore Deebo Samuel. Samuel, a 6-0, 205-pounder from Inman, S.C., was hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the 2015 season, but showed his talent by hauling in five passes for 104 yards in the season finale against Clemson. He is regarded as the Gamecocks’ big play threat this season. The only other wideouts who have caught a pass in a game are walk-on senior Matrick Belton and redshirt sophomore Terry Googer. Belton, a 6-3, 215-pounder from Columbia’s Keenan High School who began his career at Hampton University, started five games last season, catching 11 passes, while Googer, a 6-4, 220-pounder from Atlanta, caught five passes while making a pair of starts.


Tight end Hayden Hurst is poised to have a big season for the Gamecocks. The 6-5, 250-pound former professional baseball player looks to be a playmaker on offense. In limited duty last season, his first on the gridiron since 2011, the 23-year-old sophomore hauled in eight passes for 106 yards.


The Gamecocks figure to have a committee of running backs carry the workload this season. Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner has been the most impressive back in the fall camp and is listed atop the depth chart. Junior David Williams is the only experienced back in the group, with 131 carries for 555 yards in 21 games including four starts. A pair of former walk-ons in Rod Talley and Darius Paulk could also carry the rock.


Redshirt senior Mason Zandi is the only senior on the offensive side of the ball on the 2016 roster that came to South Carolina as a scholarship player. Zandi, a 6-9, 315-pound local product from Chapin, S.C. was named preseason third-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches. He is also just one of six players in Gamecock history with the last name starting with “Z” to earn a football letter. The most recent prior to Zandi was Zip Zanders, who lettered in 1986. Mason’s father, Ali, is a native of Iran who fled his home country during its 1970s revolution.


Cory Helms, a 6-4, 310-pound junior from Alpharetta, Ga., is a welcome addition to the offensive line. Helms, who earned Freshman All-America honors in 2013 at Wake Forest, spent two seasons with the Demon Deacons before sitting out 2015 as a transfer. Listed as the starter at center, he could also play guard.


Zack Bailey was the only Gamecock named to the 2015 SEC All-Freshman team, as selected by the league’s 14 coaches. The 6-6, 315-pound true freshman from Summerville, S.C., played in all 12 games, making five starts, with three at center and two at left guard.


The Gamecocks recorded 20 sacks a year ago, up from just 14 from the previous season.


South Carolina had 12 picks in 2015, one more than they recorded in 2014. INTERCEPTIONS 2015 Career Skai Moore 4 11 T.J. Holloman 2 5 Bryson Allen-Williams 1 1 Jordan Diggs 1 1 Chris Lammons 1 1 Chris Moody 0 1 Jonathan Walton 0 1 Chaz Elder 0 1


Skai Moore will take a redshirt and miss the 2016 season following offseason surgery to address a herniated disk in his neck. The 6-2, 220-pounder from Cooper City, Fla., was the Gamecocks’ leading tackler in 2015 with 111 stops, tying for third in the SEC with 9.2 tackles per game. He also led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and with four pass interceptions, tying for fourth in the SEC. Moore became the first Gamecock to reach the century mark in tackles since 2006, while his 111 tackles was the second-highest total recorded by a Carolina player in the last 25 years. He led the team in tackles for a third-consecutive season, becoming the first player to do so since 1992-94. In addition, Moore has 11 career picks, tying for third on the all-time list.


Senior Elliott Fry hit on 20-of-28 field goal attempts and all 25 extra point efforts to lead the Gamecocks in scoring with 85 points in 2015. The six-foot, 170-pounder from Frisco, Texas ranked eighth among kickers in the SEC with 7.1 points per game and tied for third in the league with 1.67 field goals made per game. He has connected on a school record 124 consecutive extra points and has hit nearly 75 percent of his career field goal attempts. That average jumps to 81 percent when attempting from under 50 yards out. He holds the school’s career records for extra points made and attempted and is second in points scored with 289, behind only Collin Mackie (330).


Senior punter Sean Kelly was, in some people’s eyes, the MVP of the Gamecock squad in 2015. The 5-10, 190-pounder from Oakland, Fla. averaged 44.3 yards per punt, third in the SEC, while the Gamecocks ranked second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in net punting with a 41.3 yard average. He booted 55 punts with just a 1.5-yard average return. Fourteen of his punts sailed over 50 yards, with a long of 69. Only four of his punts resulted in touchbacks, while 25 of his 55 punts (45 percent) were placed inside the 20.


The Gamecocks are 2-3 all-time in games decided in overtime. They won their first overtime game in school history when they defeated Missouri, 27-24, in two overtimes on October 26, 2013 in Columbia, Mo., and won in “The Swamp” over Florida by a 23-20 count in 2014. All three overtime losses have come against Tennessee by a field goal: a 23-20 setback on September 27, 2003 in Knoxville, and a 27-24 loss in Knoxville on October 27, 2007 and a 45-42 loss in Columbia on November 1, 2014.


The Gamecocks will continue their early season gauntlet through the SEC with another road trip at Mississippi State on Saturday, September 10. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series with the Bulldogs bya 9-6 margin, including a 4-3 advantage in Starkville. The teams last met in 2013 with Carolina posting a 34-16 win in Columbia, notching its seventh-straight win in the series. The Gamecocks were 14-12 winners on October 15, 2011, the last time they rode into Starkville. The Bulldogs last win in the series came by a 17-0 score on September 25, 1999. When the Gamecocks have scored, they have won 75 percent of the games against Mississsippi State (9-3).