Gamecocks travel to Vanderbilt for Saturday Night Showdown
Setting The Stage
The South Carolina Gamecocks (5-3, 2-3 SEC) are back on the road this week as they travel to Nashville, Tenn. for an SEC Eastern Division battle with the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-5, 0-4 SEC). Game time from Vanderbilt Stadium (40,375) is set for 7:30 pm ET (6:30 pm local).
OVER THE AIRWAVES: This week’s contest will be televised by SEC Network. Dave Neal (play-by-play) and Deuce McCallister (analyst) will be in the booth while Andraya Carter works the sidelines for the network. The Gamecock Radio Network features Todd Ellis as the play-by-play voice with Tommy Suggs providing the color commentary. Jamar Nesbit patrols the sidelines for the radio network.
GAMECOCK REWIND: The Gamecocks opened the season with a non-conference win over Georgia State, then dropped a pair of SEC contests to ranked opponents, first at No. 16 Arkansas, then at home to top-ranked Georgia. The Gamecocks then put together a four-game winning streak, their longest since winning six in a row to end the 2013 season, including back-to-back conference wins at No. 13 Kentucky and at home to preseason top-10 Texas A&M. South Carolina looks to get back to its winning ways after they dropped a 23-10 decision last week at home to Missouri in the annual battle for the Mayor’s Cup. The Gamecocks will have a second chance to secure bowl-eligibility when they face Vanderbilt this week.
WINNING ON THE ROAD: The Gamecocks are coming off a win at Kentucky in their last SEC road contest. Carolina is looking for its second SEC road win of the season, something they haven’t done since 2018. They are also looking for back-to-back SEC road wins in the same season for the first time since the 2012 campaign when they won at Vanderbilt and at Kentucky in their first two SEC road games.
ON BOWL ALERT: A win over Vanderbilt this week would be the Gamecocks’ sixth win of the season, making them bowl-eligible. The Gamecocks have played in 24 bowl games, posting a 10-14 record in those contests. They dropped their first eight bowl appearances, but are 10-6 since that time, including wins in six of their last eight bowl games. Head coach Shane Beamer is looking to become the third Gamecock head coach to take his team to a bowl game in each of his first two seasons, joining Steve Spurrier (2005-06) and Will Muschamp (2016-17). If the Gamecocks are able to secure a sixth win and earn a bowl invitation, Coach Beamer will have an opportunity to become the first Gamecock head coach to win a bowl game in each of his first two seasons at the helm.
POLL POSITION: Coming off back-to-back SEC wins at No. 13 Kentucky and against preseason No. 6 Texas A&M, South Carolina moved into the Top-25 in both the Associated Press and AFCA Coaches polls last week, coming in at No. 25 in both rankings. It marked the Gamecocks’ first A.P. ranking since Sept. 4, 2018, when they checked in at No. 24 after a season-opening win over Coastal Carolina.
CAROLINA VS. VANDY
This is the 32nd all-time meeting between South Carolina and Vanderbilt, with the Gamecocks holding a commanding 27-4 advantage, including a 14-2 record when the games have been played in Nashville and a 13-2 mark when the teams have met in Columbia. The teams met just once (1961) before they became SEC Eastern Division rivals in 1992, and have met every year since.
DETAILING THE ‘DORES: Vanderbilt opened the season with three wins in its first four games, all non-conference affairs. They followed that up by dropping four-straight SEC contests before enjoying an off week last week, giving them two weeks to prepare for the Gamecocks. Since getting into SEC play in 2022, the Commodores have been outscored 179-45 and have surrendered 50 or more points three times in that stretch.
IN DOMINATING FASHION: The Gamecocks have won each of the last 13 games between the two squads, their longest winning streak in the series, and 20 of the last 22 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 .871. In the previous 31 outings, Vanderbilt has tallied more than 17 points just seven times (24 in 2003, 28 in 2005, 24 in 2008, 25 in 2013, a record-high 34 in 2014, 27 in 2017 and 20 in 2021).
THE OUTLIERS: 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 LAST TIME THEY MET: Former (and current) graduate assistant Zeb Noland came off the bench to engineer a 75-yard touchdown drive, connecting with Xavier Legette on a 9-yard scoring pass with 37 seconds left to lift South Carolina to a 21-20 win over Vanderbilt in Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 16, 2021. South Carolina jumped out to a 13-3 first quarter advantage, but Vandy scored the next 17 points to take a lead before Noland’s heroics. Carolina rolled up 429 yards of offense, but turned the ball over four times in the contest. For more on that game, please turn to page 8 of these game notes.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET IN THE MUSIC CITY: South Carolina left Nashville on Oct. 10, 2020 with a convincing 41-7 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Carolina led just 10-0 at the intermission, but exploded for 31 second-half points. Kevin Harris led the charge with 171 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Collin Hill connected on 16-of-24 passes for 196 yards and added two rushing TDs. Nick Muse was the top receiver with five catches for 85 yards. Ernest Jones notched 13 tackles including a sack and 3.0 tackles for loss as the Gamecocks outgained the Commodores, 485-249. Vandy was just 1-for-11 on third-down conversions and 0-for-4 on fourth-down tries. For more on that game, please turn to page 9 of these game notes.
DROPPING THE ANCHOR: Vanderbilt has recorded a win over every SEC Eastern Division team since its last win over South Carolina in 2008. They topped Florida in 2013, Kentucky in 2015, Georgia in 2016, Tennessee in 2018 and Missouri in 2019.
VANDY TIES: South Carolina associate head coach/special teams coordinator Pete Lembo was the head coach at Ball State from 2011-15. During that time, his special teams coordinator/running backs coach was Justin Lustig, who is now Vanderbilt’s assistant head coach/special teams coordinator/tight ends coach. Joey Lynch, Vandy’s quarterbacks coach, was also on Lembo’s staff at Ball State as the tight ends coach and later as offensive coordinator.
THE LAST TIME OUT: South Carolina struggled to get anything going on either side of the ball in a 23-10 home loss to Missouri last Saturday night in the annual battle for the Mayor’s Cup. After a quick three-and-out on its first drive, Missouri put together three-straight drives that went 15 plays, 96 yards for a touchdown; 10 plays 84 yards for a touchdown, and 10 plays, 75 yards for a field goal, to open up a 17-0 advantage and the Tigers never looked back. Mizzou tallied 367 yards of offense, (but just 113 after intermission), to 203 for Carolina and held the ball for 36:35 of the game.
STILL PERFECT: Junior placekicker Mitch Jeter connected on a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter in Saturday’s contest against Missouri. He is now 8-for-8 in field goals this season (and in his career). Jeter is one of 12 placekickers in the FBS who has yet to miss a field goal attempt this season.
FOR STARTERS: Left guard Trai Jones and linebacker Debo Williams both made their first start of the season and the first start of their careers last week against Missouri. The Gamecocks have used 38 different starters on offense (18) and defense (20) this season, ranking 11th in the FBS in number of players making starts this season.
THEY COME TO SEE THE GAMECOCKS PLAY: South Carolina has sold out all five of its Saturday home games this season, generating crowds of 78,297 in the season opener against Georgia State, 78,212 against top-ranked Georgia, 77,982 versus Charlotte, 77,837 against Texas A&M and 77,578 last week versus Missouri. The only home game not sold out this season was the South Carolina State game, which was moved from Saturday to Thursday earlier that week due to Hurricane Ian. The Gamecocks rank 16th in the country in average attendance at 75,243.
TURNOVERS WIN GAMES: After recording just one takeaway through the season’s first three games while posting a 1-2 record, Carolina recorded 10 turnovers in its next four contests, all wins. South Carolina recorded back-to-back three-interception games against Charlotte and South Carolina State, marking the first time since 2013 that they recorded three INTs in back-to-back games. They did not force a turnover in the loss to Missouri. The Gamecocks are 4-0 this season when winning or breaking even in the turnover battle and 1-3 when committing more turnovers.
30-SOMETHING: The Gamecocks have tallied 30 or more points in five games of eight this season. They scored 30 or more just three times in 13 games in 2021 and haven’t scored 30 or more points more than five times in a season since 2018 when they accomplished the feat seven times.
MISSING YOU: The Gamecock defense was hit hard by the injury bug early in the season, but are as close to healthy right now as they’ve been since game one. A pair of starters in edge rusher Jordan Strachan and linebacker Mohamed Kaba suffered season-ending ACL injuries at Arkansas. Edge rusher Terrell Dawkins underwent knee surgery after the Georgia game and has been out since then, but is getting closer to making a return to the field.
A LITTLE HISTORY: 2022 marks the 129th season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 116th-consecutive year in which Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 626-604-44, a .509 winning percentage.
UTILIZING THE PORTAL: The Gamecocks’ roster features nine scholarship transfers, six of whom enrolled at Carolina in January. The spring enrollees included RB Christian Beal-Smith (Wake Forest), RB Lovasea Carroll (Georgia), EDGE Terrell Dawkins (NC State), QB Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), DB Devonni Reed (Central Michigan), and WR Antwane Wells Jr. (James Madison). TE Nate Adkins (East Tennessee State), WR Corey Rucker (Arkansas State) and TE Austin Stogner (Oklahoma) were added to the roster in the summer.
SUPER SENIORS: The Gamecocks list nine players (not including transfers) whose eligibility would have expired had not the NCAA allowed the 2020 season to be a “free” year. Those “super seniors” are WR Jalen Brooks, OL Eric Douglas, LB Sherrod Greene, LB Brad Johnson, EDGE Jordan Strachan, WR Chad Terrell, WR Josh Vann, DL M.J. Webb and OL Dylan Wonnum.
ONE FOR THE THUMB: With the NCAA COVID rule allowing for an extra year, four Gamecocks – OL Eric Douglas, LB Brad Johnson, WR Josh Vann and OL Dylan Wonnum – will become five-year letterwinners.
TOTING THE SHEEPSKIN: The Gamecocks have 20 players who have their college degrees in hand. Twelve players who wore the SEC Graduate patch in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl returned for the 2022 season, including Wyatt Campbell, Eric Douglas, Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson, Tyreek Johnson, Dakereon Joyner, Hank Manos, Darius Rush, Jordan Strachan, Chad Terrell, M.J. Webb and Dylan Wonnum. Jovaughn Gwyn and Jaylen Nichols graduated in May. Traevon Kenion graduated in August. In addition, Nate Adkins (East Tennessee State), Christian Beal-Smith (Wake Forest), Dante Miller (Columbia), Devonni Reed (Central Michigan) and Austin Stogner (Oklahoma) have degrees from other institutions.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Gamecocks are back on the road for a second-straight week when they travel to Gainesville, Fla. next Saturday to take on the Florida Gators in another SEC Eastern Division matchup. Game time is set for 4 pm ET. Florida leads the all-time series by a 29-10-3 margin, including a 14-2 advantage when the game has been played in The Swamp. South Carolina dominated last year’s contest in Columbia, winning in a 40-17 rout. The Gamecocks last win in Gainesville came in the 2014 season, a 23-20 overtime win.