COLUMBIA — Some losses linger longer than others. Some disappointments are permanent.
For South Carolina, the sting from last weekend’s trip to Georgia will never go away, especially if the Bulldogs go on to win the SEC East. The Gamecocks can’t change what happened in Athens. That opportunity is in the past.
All USC can do is ensure one letdown doesn’t lead to another.
That’s the goal Saturday when No. 13 South Carolina (1-1) hosts Vanderbilt (1-1) for a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. Inside Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks hope to nudge their season back on track.
“I think we’re all looking at it as a statement game,” sophomore running back Mike Davis said this week. “Everyone’s angry. We want to take it out on someone else. No one’s chill, no one’s laid back, no one’s laughing about it. Some people even take (the Georgia loss) as an embarrassment. I would say we have a lot of people that are angry and ready to play against Vanderbilt.”
It’s rare to hear a player so blunt about what a game means, but there was unmistakable honesty in Davis’ words.
Only in Week 3, USC approaches a crossroads with its season. Beat Vanderbilt, and take a winning record — and possibly a higher national ranking — into the bye week. Lose, and nobody knows how far the Gamecocks could fall.
Even if Davis hadn’t opened up, there was no masking the importance of beating Vanderbilt.
“I felt like this season was going to be the one for us,” junior receiver Nick Jones said, describing his anger after USC lost to Georgia. “It still can be the one for us, but, I mean, I really wanted to go undefeated this year because people always rule Carolina out. They’re still going to rule us out, but we’re still going to prove them wrong.”
There’s a different buzz for Saturday’s game than past matchups against the Commodores. Maybe it’s the larger context of what moving beyond Georgia means. Maybe it’s tension, the memory of USC’s narrow 17-13 win against Vanderbilt last season in Nashville.
On Friday, South Carolina announced Saturday’s game will be its fourth sellout of the season, joining the opener against North Carolina as well as games against Florida and Clemson later this fall. It may seem strange linking Vanderbilt with USC’s in-state rival, border rival and one of the SEC’s premier opponents, but there have been some closer-than-expected games against the Commodores recently.
USC hasn’t lost to Vanderbilt in three seasons. The Gamecocks are 4-2 against Vandy in the past six.
Only twice have they won by more than a touchdown.
“We seem to always struggle,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “Their defense is very similar year in and year out. Wondering, ‘Why can’t you guys figure out how to move the ball against them?’ But we don’t seem to ever move it very far.
“They’re very good on defense because they don’t make mistakes. They’re well-disciplined and they play with a lot of effort. I give them credit. They’re a well-coached team.”
Knowing that, Spurrier was less than thrilled with Davis’ comments.
USC is hoping to steamroll Vanderbilt this weekend, show no mercy. It didn’t need to give the much-improved Commodores a heads up.
The challenge of getting its season back on track is difficult enough.
“That’s why we have to be careful when we send players into the media room,” Spurrier quipped. “This is a game where we just need to play football. We should feel that way every time we play, that we need to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We’re going to play all of them hopefully the best we can.
“As coaches, we all know you have to have the ability to forget what happened last week, whether it’s good or bad. Move on and try to improve as the season goes. This team should improve with all the youngsters we have playing, especially on defense. They should improve. If we can coach worth a flip, we’ll get better and better as we go.”