Why did Vanderbilt play every SEC opponent—besides Alabama and South Carolina—so well? There were some very good teams that just barely got by Vandy. Should South Carolina expect to beat them so thoroughly on the stat sheet this year?
The 2012 season opens for the South Carolina Gamecocks in two weeks. As fall practice drags on and the calendar slowly turns, both teams are starting to mold their starting units.
Revelations about team progress will be laden with lots of coach speak between now and the game. If you really want to get a better understanding of what each team is up against in week one, you likely need to look back, not forward.
Vanderbilt was out muscled by the Carolina offensive and defensive lines all night in last season's 21-3 South Carolina win. The Gamecock defense recorded six sacks on the Commodore quarterbacks during the game. Finally, they knocked the starter Larry smith out of the game in the third quarter.
Backup Jordon Rodgers, younger brother of Green Bay superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, took over. He completed his first two pass attempts for two yards.
After the game, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin reiterated the obvious, saying simply that the team was manhandled up front.
When analyzing the teams for the rematch in Nashville, you can't help but to see it coming again. The same type of result as played out in Columbia in 2011 for the over matched Commodores. At the same time, you must wonder how Vandy was able to play so many SEC teams close last season.
Arkansas, who beat the Gamecocks last season, just barely escaped Nashville with a win. They were losing to Vandy 20-28, when Vanderbilt's Zack Stacy fumbled on the Arkansas five yard line. Razorback Jerry Franklin scooped the ball up and returned it 94 yards for an Arky TD—the dreaded 14 point swing—that likely saved the game for Arkansas.
Still, the Commodores fought to the last play of the game, missing a 27 yard field goal attempt to force overtime. Vanderbilt's defense had three sacks and forced two turnovers, while out gaining Arkansas 462 to 368 yards.
Just before the missed field goal to end the game, Vandy quarterback Jordon Rodgers drove the Commodores 80 yards to the Arkansas 10. His pass to receiver Brandon Bardon just missed in the end zone for the win just before the field goal attempt.
Vanderbilt also had close losses against Florida by five, Georgia by five and Tennessee by six in overtime in 2011. You can't say it was home field that made the difference. Some of the better-played games came at home and some came on the road.
First year head coach James Franklin deserves a lot of credit for what he has done at Vandy. With the exception of their loss to South Carolina and Alabama, they played well enough to be in games late. Even in defeat, you must respect the fight the team has shown.
All that said, I cannot find any reason why South Carolina shouldn't expect to push these guys around on the line again. These are pretty much the same two teams that hooked up last year.
The home field should help Vandy make the game more interesting for the first half. It likely is safe to assume that the Gamecocks will not throw four interceptions to shoot themselves in the foot this year. So any advantage gained by the home field will help make up for not receiving those gifts from the Gamecocks this year.
Unless James Franklin unveils some sort of new sophisticated offense that the well-coached Gamecocks can't figure out, this should be a win—and cover—game for South Carolina.
But it's game one in the SEC. A place where nothing should be taken for granted.