By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – In only his third season in the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin has already proven to be one of the brightest young coaches in the league and around the nation.
Franklin compiled more wins in his first two years at the helm in Nashville than any previous Vandy coach in more than a century. He’s turned a program that was struggling at the time of his hire into a legitimate threat and has garnered respect from his peers in the process.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, who will be pacing the opposite sideline from Franklin when the Commodores take on South Carolina in Columbia this Saturday, juxtaposes Franklin as one of the game’s most established head coaches. In his 21st season as a coach in the SEC, Spurrier has won – and won big – at two different league schools, and has withstood the test of time by evolving as a coach throughout the years.
“If you really study Coach Spurrier and his track record, it's really unbelievable,” Franklin said Monday. “I think one of the things that's most impressive is how he has evolved over time. If you think about the offense that he ran at Florida and now what he's doing at South Carolina, it's so different. He is finding ways to be successful in the most competitive football conference.”
While the two coaches are at very different stages in their respective careers, this weekend’s matchup provides a similar situation for each. The Gamecocks and the Commodores will each enter Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night having lost their first conference game of the year, which has both teams on high alert.
“All our goals are still out there,” said South Carolina receiver Nick Jones. “It kind of makes us more hungry and want to prove everybody wrong.”
While Jones is correct in his assertion that goals are still alive despite a loss, that might not be the case if the Gamecocks don’t rebound with a win this weekend – and the same goes for Vandy. In a division as perilous as the SEC East, a 0-2 start in league play can be an insurmountable hole to dig out of in the race to Atlanta.
Even though it’s early in the season, it’s crunch time for these two teams. The loser will not be eliminated from contention in the East, but it will be put directly behind the 8-ball for the rest of the schedule.
“There are a whole bunch of teams that have lost a game,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “It's early in the year, and hopefully, we have learned a lot from our last game so that hopefully we can correct a lot of flaws we have in our team.”
The atmosphere in Columbia will be tense on Saturday evening, when the game is slated to kickoff at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Saturday’s game will mark the 23rd meeting between South Carolina and Vanderbilt…The Gamecocks hold an 18-4 advantage in the series, including an 8-2 record when the game is played in Columbia as it will be this weekend…South Carolina has won four straight in the series, and 11 of the last 13 overall…In the past four years, USC has surrendered just 33 total points to Vanderbilt…The teams met once before South Carolina joined the SEC (Gamecocks defeated the ’Dores 23-7 in 1961)…They have met every season as Eastern Division foes since 1992 when USC joined the SEC…Vanderbilt has struggled against Steve Spurrier historically, going 2-18 in 20 meetings with teams coached by the Head Ball Coach.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13 (Nashville, Tenn.)
2011 – South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 3 (Columbia, S.C.)
2010 – South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 7 (Nashville, Tenn.)
2009 – South Carolina 14, Vanderbilt 10 (Columbia, S.C.)
2008 – Vanderbilt 24, South Carolina 17 (Nashville, Tenn.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
No. 9 South Carolina kicked its 2012 campaign off with a hard-fought win in Nashville, holding off Vanderbilt by a final score of 17-13. Marcus Lattimore ran for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Gamecocks in his first game back following a torn ACL, and Connor Shaw ran for 92 yards despite injuring his shoulder during the contest. Shaw led the game-winning drive in the fourth, punching in the go-ahead TD from a yard out while dealing with the pain of his shoulder. Vandy was led offensively by receiver Jordan Matthews, who snagged eight passes for 147 yards, including a 78-yard score.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
South Carolina – Mike Davis, Soph., Running Back
Marcus Lattimore’s departure to the NFL left a huge hole in the South Carolina backfield, but Davis is doing his best to make Gamecock fans feel better about the loss of one of their all-time greats. In just two games this season, Davis has recorded two 100-yard performances, a feat which a Gamecock running back accomplished just four times total in the 2012 season (three from Lattimore, one from Kenny Miles). Davis has been efficient with his carries, averaging a stellar 9.4 yards per attempt while ripping off a 75-yard run in each of USC’s first two games. Davis has been a huge asset for the Gamecocks on first downs, running 16 times for 220 yards and score so far this season on first downs to help South Carolina stay ahead of the chains.
Vanderbilt – Jordan Matthews, Senior, Wide Receiver
Vandy’s leading receiver from each of the past two seasons has picked up right where he left off this year. Through two games, Matthews, despite being a focal point of opposing defenses, has hauled in 16 passes for 289 yards (18 yards per catch) and a pair of touchdowns. Averaging 144.5 yards per game, Matthews is currently leading all SEC receivers by a fairly wide margin and has shown no signs of slowing down. Matthews provides a reliable target for Vandy quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, and even though the Gamecocks know the ball will be thrown in his direction often, expect to see him make some plays once again on Saturday night.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
South Carolina – South Carolina Defensive Front
Clowney is the obvious playmaker on this South Carolina defense, but what his fellow defensive linemen do could be just as critical against Vanderbilt. In its first two games, USC has seen opponents incorporate a number of tactics to minimize the explosive impact of Clowney, including running to the opposite side of the field (69 percent of Georgia’s rushes when Clowney was on the field last week went away from him) and employing short, quick-release passes to avoid giving him time to reach the quarterback. The Dawgs rushed for 228 yards last week, and the Gamecocks will need to get better production this week from its linemen and linebackers other than Clowney, who will be schemed around once again. That starts with DE Chaz Sutton and D-tackles Kelcy Quarles and J.T. Surratt and company up front.
Vanderbilt – Senior Defensive Backs
Vanderbilt returned a trio of senior defensive backs for the 2013 season in cornerback Andre Hal, and safeties Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler. These upperclassmen were the cornerstone of a defense that was one of the best in the nation against the pass last season, and they will be critical for the Commodres, who have struggled to stop the run thus far. South Carolina will roll in a cast of talented wide-outs, including Shaq Roland and Nick Jones, who have combined for three touchdowns this season. This trio of experienced defensive backs will need to lock down the air to allow the front seven to focus on slowing down USC’s rushing attack, which is averaging 227 yards per game in 2013.
• South Carolina has won 12 straight games at home, the third-longest streak in the FBS and the second-longest in school history.
• Spurrier has 18 career wins against Vanderbilt, which is second only to his 19 career wins against Kentucky.
• Steve Spurrier and James Franklin have met two times, with Spurrier coming away with wins in both instances.
• Vanderbilt has won three straight SEC road games, dating back to last season. The ’Dores won four total road games in 2012.
• The last time these teams played in Columbia, the Commodores were limited to just 77 yards of total offense. South Carolina suffocated Vandy on the ground, allowing just four of those yards in the rushing game.