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NCAAF: Thursday News and Notes

NCAAF: Thursday News and Notes

South Carolina at Vanderbilt
By Christian Alexander

South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-0, 0-0 SEC)

Vanderbilt Stadium (Natural Grass)
Line: South Carolina -10, O/U 41

Always good to get the season started with a “W” and while I rarely play totals, the under (45.4) seemed to make a lot of sense last week with two new quarterbacks getting the start. Both South Carolina’s Tommy Beecher and N.C. State’s Russell Wilson weren’t able to finish the game, Wilson leaving with a concussion and Beecher taking a seat after throwing four interceptions. In the end, despite some fourth quarter fireworks by the Gamecocks, the under was a safe play throughout as South Carolina blanked the Wolfpack 34-0.

Turning the page to the second Thursday night game of the week, we again find ourselves in SEC country and once again with Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks as they travel to Vanderbilt.

That said, while we’ll again see South Carolina, Spurrier’s offense will have a different look this week. After Beecher's performance and the subsequent play of redshirt sophomore QB Chris Smelley who sparked the offense to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it was a pretty easy decision to switch signal callers. Smelley was 4-2 as a starter in 2007.

With Smelley under center and more touches for RB Mike Davis, who was benched for the first series and a half against N.C. State for a disciplinary issue, South Carolina’s offense should be more productive, certainly from the outset. And after the performance of Vanderbilt last week, the Gamecocks might well need all the points they can get this Thursday.

Of course, all the experts and pundits – and I’ll admit, including myself – thought this was going to be a really down year for the Commodores. And while a 34-13 handling of Miami (Ohio) certainly doesn’t prove that Vandy is ready to threaten for the SEC title – or even have a winning record in 2008 - it does prove that Coach Bobby Johnson has his squad ready to again be a thorn in the side of each and every opponent this season.

However, you probably don’t have to explain that to Spurrier. Last year the Gamecocks made the mistake of trying to sneak past Vandy on half effort in front of a home crowd in Columbia. That led to a 17-0 first quarter lead for the visitors, one which the Gamecocks could never get past, losing by a final of 17-6. That loss started South Carolina's five-game losing streak to end the season, in the process plummeting from 6-1 and No. 6 in the nation to wrapping up the year 6-6 and without a bowl invite.

So, yes, South Carolina should be on high alert this Thursday night and no doubt would love to dish a little payback to the home team.

Vandy QB Chris Nickson, who had a relatively disappointing year after a stellar sophomore campaign, proved against Miami (Ohio) that he is primed for a big senior season, rushing for a career-high 166 yards. That said, Nickson will likely have to mix up the play calling a bit more this Thursday against a Gamecocks' defense that appears to be one of the SEC's stingiest, as evidenced by that bagel they laid on the Wolfpack.

The final stat sheet showed that the Commodores ran the ball 50 times against the Redhawks while just calling for 16 pass attempts. Nickson will have to lean on WR Sean Walker - one of this team's few speed threats –  to loosen up one of the better secondary’s in the country. Facing South Carolina LB’s Eric Norwood  and Jasper Brinkley, S Emanuel Cook and CB Captain Munnerlyn will certainly be a tougher test than last week against Miami (Ohio).

The ability of South Carolina’s defense to contain Nickson coupled with the play of Smelley, especially in the first quarter, will likely determine the outcome of this one. As Beecher attempted to do last week, look for Smelley to target preseason first-team All-SEC selection WR Kenny McKinley often. McKinley needs just 11 catches to break the all-time career record at South Carolina.

Overall, Vandy returns just nine starters on offense (3) and defense (6) while South Carolina brings back seven starters on offense and a whopping ten on defense.

South Carolina leads the all-time series 14-3.

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Re: NCAAF: Thursday News and Notes

No. 24 S. Carolina looks for revenge against Vandy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Vanderbilt has had fewer victories as sweet as last year's win at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks were ranked No. 6 at the time and the Commodores hadn't beaten a team ranked so highly in more than 70 years. Plus, Vandy ended a 14-game losing streak against coach Steve Spurrier's teams.

The Commodores go for two in a row against the ol' ball coach Thursday night.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, who worked concessions at South Carolina games growing up in Columbia, downplayed any pressure on his Commodores (1-0) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

``It's the second game. That's the way we're treating it, playing South Carolina, a quality opponent. I've said it probably 1,000 times there's no hump. We won't get over the hump if we beat South Carolina. We're going to have to play good the next week to win. I don't care who it is, we have to play well,'' he said.

``It'd be a nice win, a real nice win. I don't think it's going to put us on any extra special place where everybody says Vanderbilt has arrived.''

The loss to Vanderbilt was the first of five straight losses to end the season for the Gamecocks (1-0).

``I had friends calling me from back home, `Hey man, what happened to y'all? Y'all was No. 6, y'all would've probably moved up,''' South Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. ``At the time I was like, I really don't know what happened. We just lost to Vanderbilt.

``Not to say they were just a bad team. I think we just came out thinking, `We're No. 6 in the nation, they're going to lay down for us.' But it wasn't like that.''

Spurrier had never lost to Vanderbilt before while coaching Duke, Florida or South Carolina. When he accepted the Washington Redskins coaching job in 2002, he even quipped that ``there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL.''

But under Johnson, the team now mired in a 25-year streak of losing seasons has improved. Even Spurrier had to tip his visor to the Commodores last season after they tied a school record with seven sacks and held his offense to a pair of field goals.

``Give Vandy credit,'' Spurrier said. ``They played outstanding defense, which they can do. They thoroughly beat us.''

The Commodores are coming off a 34-13 win at Miami of Ohio.

``We go into every game expecting to win,'' Vanderbilt safety Ryan Hamilton said. ``We weren't surprised last year.''

Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson rushed 20 times for a career-high 166 yards last week, and Johnson has no plans to ease Nickson's workload even against an SEC opponent.

Spurrier has other plans.

``We'll try to make him a thrower and not let him run around too much,'' Spurrier said. ``They only attempted 16 throws the other night, so they did most of their damage running the ball.''

Chris Smelley will start for South Carolina after replacing Tommy Beecher in the Gamecocks' 34-0 win over North Carolina State last week. He guided the Gamecocks to touchdowns on all three of their fourth-quarter possessions and was 5-of-5 for 92 yards and two scores.

Johnson said it doesn't matter who starts for the Gamecocks at quarterback.

``Against Coach Spurrier, you're playing against his offense, not necessarily the quarterback,'' he said.

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