COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – Something has to give this weekend as the 0-2 Gamecocks travel to Nashville to battle the winless Vanderbilt Commodores.
Despite putting together some solid drives against two ranked opponents, the Gamecocks still find themselves entering week three without a win. A late mishap against Tennessee, and a second-half collapse against Florida left them with a bad taste in their mouth. But a week three matchup with Vanderbilt brings a lot of optimism with it.
Collin Hill has played well through two games this season, and has engineered scoring drives on each of the team’s opening possessions this season. They’ve come out strong, but have failed to build on the momentum. After scoring on the first drive against Tennessee, the Gamecocks followed that up with five punts and an interception return for a touchdown to close out the half. After their opening drive against Florida, two punts followed. That will come back to bite you against great teams, and even some not so great. Otherwise, though, Hill has largely protected the football and he’s completing over 61% of his passes, though they’d like to stretch it downfield a bit more. Hill averages 5.8 yards per completion.
The running game has started fast with Kevin Harris, but sputtered throughout the remainder of games, although they showed improvement on the ground last week against the Gators. Harris has been solid (35-155-2), and Deshaun Fenwick has provided a good change of pace in the backfield. They’ve found some room to run, and it’s opened things up for Hill and company. But some untimely turnovers, including a Hill fumble in Florida territory on a promising drive, has been tough for the Gamecocks to overcome.
Shi Smith has been electric through two weeks, and has been a reliable asset on third down. He leads the team by a mile with 22 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of Smith, though, there’s been underwhelming play in the receiver corps, with several drops in key moments contributing to stalled drives. Look for SC to clean things up in that department this week against the Commodores. Junior Josh Vann, who recorded his first catch last week, may see an increased role moving forward as well.
Defensively, Ernest Jones has been the focal point in the linebacker corps and leads the team in tackles. His rumble recovery against Florida was key for the Gamecocks, and they’ll need more of that going forward.
On the line Aaron Sterling and Keir Thomas showed improvement from their week-one performances, and Kingsley Enagbare continued to be a quality threat, though he was slowed by the Gators after his opening day performance against the Vols which included two sacks.
Israel Mukuama was moved to safety to help alleviate his injury, but is expected to return to his traditional spot at corner this weekend. After a disappointing performance in the opener, Mukuama played well against the Gators, even snagging his first interception of the season. He, along with Jaycee Horn and Jammie Robinson have had somewhat of a slow start to the year, but brighter days are ahead for the talented trio.
The defense as a whole has created just two takeaways this year, but with a highly struggling Vanderbilt team on the horizon, that number may rise on Saturday.
The Commodores have struggled mightily this season. On offense they’ve managed just two touchdowns in two games, scoring fewer than ten points per game. Granted this came against two ranked opponents in Texas A&M and LSU, but their offense has provided no spark.
Freshman quarterback Ken Seals (#8) has had a couple moments here and there, but overall his youth has shown through two weeks. He’s completed 31 of 54 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns while adding four interceptions. He tends to hold onto the ball too long, giving the defense ample opportunity to get the sack or force a throw.
Though they’ve had issues running the football as a team, they do have two pretty skilled backs. Ja’Veon Marlow (#9) is the starter, and he has a lot of burst, able to get the edge. Jamauri Wakefield (#32) is more of a bruising back wearing on defenses as the game goes on. Both of them are used heavily and as a tandem. They employ a mix of zone and power, though it appears they lean towards zone blocking schemes, especially with Marlow in the backfield. Their running backs aren’t featured very much in the passing game as they look exclusively to their tight ends and receivers.
Amir Abdur-Rahman (#2) and Cam Johnson (#7) are the top targets on the outside. Tight end Ben Bresnahan (#86) is a big part of their passing attack, and has six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown this season.
As of right now, however, their offense is dead last in the SEC and might have a hard time getting over that hump against a hungry Gamecocks team.
Their biggest threat on the defensive line is senior Dayo Odeyingbo (#10). He often gets penetration in the backfield, racking up 12 tackles for loss in 2019. This season he already has a sack, and has contributed 13 total tackles. He’s an influence on most plays.
They have experience in the linebacker corps in seniors Dimitre Moore (#7) and Andre Mintze (#48). Mintze is used as an outside pass rusher while Moore checks in as the inside backer.
Freshman cornerback Donovan Kaufman (#1) has emerged as a quality defensive back, flying around the field and making plays both against the run and the pass. Junior Dashaun Jerkins (#33) leads the safety group, while sophomore Randall Haynie (#4) and Gabe Jeudy-Lally (#6) highlighting the corners. Haynie has provided the team’s only interception.
The game is set up well for the Gamecocks. It’s a matchup with a young, inexperienced offense that is off to a slow start. Pair that with an improving defensive line for SC, and the Commodores could be in for a long day. That being said, the Gamecocks have to key in on the run and shut down Vandy’s one-two punch. If they force a true freshman to pass it often they’ll be in a great position to cash in on some big plays.
Meanwhile the Gamecocks offense showed improvement between its two contests so far, and the Vanderbilt defense is exploitable. Look for Kevin Harris to have his biggest day of the season, and Collin Hill should be able to find plenty of room to connect with his receivers. Shi Smith may be in line for another standout performance.
The Gamecocks come in with a chip on their shoulder after an 0-2 start, and this could very well be the bridge that gets back on track.