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USC at Vanderbilt: Four keys to the Gamecocks getting their first win

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South Carolina's Deshaun Fenwick (14) rushed for 102 yards against Vanderbilt last season. File/Artie Walker, Jr./Aiken Standard

COLUMBIA — Not that it’s ever chipper and full of small talk, but South Carolina’s press conference this week was funereal. Will Muschamp blitzed through the intro, took his questions and lit out.

There’s little wonder why. The Gamecocks are a flawed football team, and the head coach isn’t getting paid to stand around and talk about it. He’s paid to fix those problems and win, and in an 0-2 start that’s seen issue after issue arise, he hasn’t found a way to do either.

USC was expected to lose to Florida last week. It was a toss-up at best to whether the Gamecocks could beat Tennessee in Week 1. USC always looked at this game at Vanderbilt on Saturday as its best chance to win this season and feeling the pressure that if this doesn’t happen, it may not happen at all this year, the Gamecocks have to answer Saturday.

“A lot of energy and competition, which we need,” Muschamp said after Tuesday's practice. “We need to have a good Wednesday-Thursday-Friday and head up to Nashville for a noon kick.”

Four keys for the Gamecocks to beat Vanderbilt:

Run through the rain

The Gamecocks found their No. 1 running back last week as Kevin Harris ripped Florida for 100 yards. His backup, Deshaun Fenwick, also sparkled and each should play a lot Saturday.

That’s by design. Muschamp lets his offensive coordinator call the shots, but it’s no secret he prefers to win the old-fashioned SEC way — run the ball and play defense. If the Gamecocks can gash Vandy on the ground and never have to take to the air, that removes all the concern about USC’s still-anonymous wide receivers (outside of SEC receptions leader Shi Smith).

Plus, it’s going to rain. Hurricane Delta already changed the location of one SEC game this week and the kickoff of another. Toting a waterlogged football is much more dependable than throwing and catching it.

It’s bliss

When it joined the SEC, USC won its first seven games against Vanderbilt. It lost the next two.

The Gamecocks won the ensuing seven. They lost the next two.

There’s no need for real concern as USC passed seven straight wins long ago. The Gamecocks have won 11 straight against Vandy in their current streak.

One way to put it is Vandy is long overdue. Another way is USC has been and still is the better team. 

Fresh fish

Commodores quarterback Ken Seals is just the third freshman to ever start an SEC opener and is still under center two games later. His numbers are decent.

The ones the Gamecocks need to concentrate on are four interceptions and five sacks.

Seals is a rookie. He’ll make mistakes, especially on a rainy day.

USC can force him into those with an aggressive pass-rush and clogging the holes for Seals’ running backs. A secondary that has been horrendous in coverage could get its confidence restored with a couple of tipped-ball interceptions.

The final countdown

The Gamecocks need to let the other team try to come back in the fourth quarter. They’ve been behind in their first two games, had chances to win and rather interesting clock management thwarted the attempts.

To be two scores ahead in the fourth would relax everyone. It’s clear that USC’s offense can deliberately work the clock and score at the end of a lengthy drive.

That would come in handy if up by 10. The Gamecocks could clinch the win doing that.

Instead of frantically (or not) trying to get back in position to win.

Prediction

South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 21

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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