Vandy at SC Preview
Columbia, SC - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier doesn't have to do much to make sure the No. 23 Gamecocks don't take Vanderbilt lightly this weekend - just slip in the tape of the last two times the teams have played.
"They outplayed us the last two years. That's why they've beaten us, simple as that. They've outplayed us, outcoached us, outhit us," Spurrier said Tuesday.
And he has some other words that might make Gamecocks fans cringe. After all, the Commodores have been considered the doormat of the Southeastern Conference long before South Carolina joined 17 years ago.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGLOBAL.com have made South Carolina –12.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 84% of bets for this game have been placed on South Carolina –12.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
"We all know that as close as our teams are, one or two plays determines it," Spurrier said.
Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye said the Gamecocks took Vanderbilt lightly the past two years, a costly mistake for a team that's never had a lot of room for error.
"Every time we lose to them, I feel like we go downhill," Ajiboye said.
South Carolina is just now climbing out of a tailspin the Commodores sent them in to in 2007. Back then, the Gamecocks came into the Vanderbilt game 6-1 and ranked No. 6 in the country. They lost 17-6, beginning a five game losing streak to end the season without even a bowl bid.
The teams played in the SEC opener the next season, and Vanderbilt's 24-17 win was the Gamecocks sixth loss in seven games and in an up-and-down season that ended with a loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The Commodores ended up in a bowl for the first time in 26 years, beating Boston College in the Music City Bowl.
But things seem to be returning to normal this year in a series where the Gamecocks have won 14 of 18 games. Vanderbilt has yet to win an SEC game this season, and a loss to South Carolina would mean the Commodores (2-5, 0-4 SEC) would have to win their final four, including at No. 2 Florida, to make their first ever back-to-back bowl appearances.
The Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2) become bowl eligible with a win and have been ranked in the top 25 for three consecutive weeks for the first time since tumbling out of the rankings a few weeks after the 2007 Vanderbilt loss.
Commodores coach Bobby Johnson is ignoring the winning streak over South Carolina, instead concentrating on how to get his offense, which is averaging about seven points in each SEC game.
"We need to play as well as we can play this Saturday. We need to worry about Vanderbilt and not South Carolina and see if we can make the Commodores a little better this week," Johnson said.
When pressed about whether he has figured out how to beat the Gamecocks, Johnson appeared to agree with Spurrier's assessment that the teams are just a few plays apart.
"We just know that we had to fight, scratch and claw and hang in there at the end of the game, "Johnson said. "That's exactly what we did the last two times we played against them. We played well in the fourth quarter of both of those contests and that's why we pulled them out."
One bright spot for Vanderbilt is its pass defense, which is a fraction of a yard away from leading the SEC at 133.6 yards a game. The Gamecocks have struggled to get their running game going at times, relying on Stephen Garcia, who has thrown more passes this season than any other SEC quarterback. The sophomore also won't have his favorite target, receiver Moe Brown, who Spurrier said will miss the next two games after suffering a severe concussion in the Alabama game.
"We're still trying to run," said Spurrier, who thinks his team's SEC-leading 20 sacks allowed makes his ground game look worse than it really is. "We're going run and mix it up this week."
South Carolina center Lemuel Jeanpierre has watched plenty of video on the Commodores and is impressed with how smart the defense is and how the players don't quit even when they appeared to be blocked out of a play. The senior gives a lot of the credit to Johnson and the staff he brought to Vanderbilt for turning around a team that used to be easy to overlook.
"They're trying to change their outlook like we are, to be a presence in the SEC," Jeanpierre said.
Posted: 10/21/09 12:49PM ET