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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind Enemy Lines: South Carolina

Alec Myszka
September 21, 2014: Vanderbilt took on the USC Gamecocks in Dudley Stadium. The game ended in an unfortunate Commodore loss with a score of 48-34.

Robbie Weinstein: Much like Vanderbilt the past two-plus years, Carolina has its own quarterback battle coming down to the wire. Coach Will Muschamp has implied both Brandon McIlwain and Perry Orth could play against the Commodores on Thursday; what do you make of all this, and is it good or bad for the Gamecocks?

Adam Orfinger: McIlwain has more raw talent than Orth, but starting a true freshman on the road against an SEC opponent comes with a risk. Muschamp definitely knows what he’s getting with Orth, which makes it a safer option to have both guys ready. Having the option to play either Orth or McIlwain gives Muschamp the flexibility to ride the hot hand, which is definitely good for the Gamecocks.

RW: South Carolina’s defense was generally solid last year, but now it’s lost linebacker Skai Moore for the season with an injury. How big of a hole does this leave on the defense, and how much, if at all, will this hold the unit back?

AO: Skai Moore was the unquestioned leader of the defense last season, and his absence leaves a big gap. However, Bryson Allen-Williams and T.J. Holloman are proven standouts on the defense, and Jonathan Walton should step into a larger role. Expect the defense to be stronger than last season under Muschamp and Travaris Robinson, even with Moore out.

RW: How have you seen Muschamp put his stamp on the team so far?

AO: There’s a certain amount of energy and optimism around the program that was absent last season. Steve Spurrier didn’t bring much energy in his final season, and Shawn Elliott wasn’t able to sustain the momentum he had after winning his first game as the interim head coach. The team appears to be more focused and disciplined as well.

RW: Who are a couple of players who could play key roles in deciding the outcome of this game?

AO: Outside of the quarterback, Deebo Samuel will likely have the biggest impact on the offense. Samuel displayed his big play ability in his 104-yard performance against Clemson, and he’ll be a safety valve for whichever quarterback is in the game. Defensively, Marquavius Lewis will need to step up. Lewis was hyped up as the savior of the Gamecock pass rush when he arrived in 2015, but the unit still only came up with 20 sacks last season. He’ll need to break into the backfield and free up his fellow defensive linemen.

RW: How do you see the game playing out? Pick a winner and score, if you would like.

AO: I would anticipate some ugly offense from both sides, with the game primarily being decided by the turnover battle. In the end, I see strong performances from the experienced South Carolina special teams making the difference. Gamecocks win in a sloppy 20-14 affair.

AO: Kyle Shurmur lost the starting quarterback job to Johnny McCrary during the 2015 season. What makes him the guy for the job now?

RW: Although Shurmur never truly lost the starting job to McCrary (he suffered a concussion against Houston that forced him out of the Florida game, then returned to start the final three games), his stats left a lot to be desired. Backup QB Wade Freebeck hasn’t been far off the pace leading into the season, so it’s quite possible that he’ll steal snaps from Shurmur at some point. The arguments in Shurmur’s favor appear to be his pedigree as a highly rated recruit and his 2-2 SEC record as a starter, but he isn’t a lock to take a big step forward this year.

AO: Ralph Webb guaranteed a win over South Carolina during the summer. Considering he’ll likely be the focus of the South Carolina defense, how do you expect him to lead the Commodores to victory?

RW: Webb should get his typical 25 or so carries, but it’ll be hard for him to carry the offense to more than 20 points in any game this year without help from Shurmur. Against South Carolina, he’ll need to show well in pass protection and provide an outlet for Shurmur in order to take pressure off the young QB. Webb will see time this year as a kick returner as well, and any help in terms of field position could be important in what looks to be a low-scoring game.

AO: Vanderbilt struggled converting opportunities in the red zone last season. What do you expect from the Commodores near the goal line against South Carolina?

RW: Vandy brings back a pair of tight ends who missed most of last year in DeAndre Woods and Jalen Pinkney, and I’d expect both to be goal-line targets for Shurmur when VU opts to pass. Most of the time, however, I expect simple and predictable runs up the middle with Webb, Dallas Rivers and converted linebacker Khari Blasingame.

AO: The running game is Vanderbilt’s strong suit, but the South Carolina secondary is far weaker than the front seven. How do you expect that contrast to affect Derek Mason’s gameplan?

RW: As much as Vanderbilt’s coaching staff surely would like to try and stretch the field, the reality is the Dores haven’t proved they have the deep threats or quarterback play to do so. Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will probably play it conservative with the hopes of avoiding turnovers, so I still expect them to mostly run the ball right at South Carolina’s front seven. This strategy might only produce limited success, but they’ll stick to it.

AO: Fill in the blanks: Vanderbilt will win if __________________. Vanderbilt will lose if ____________________.

RW: Vanderbilt will win if it wins the turnover battle. Vanderbilt will lose if McCrary parachutes out of the sky and puts himself in the game, throwing three interceptions in the end zone to seal a Gamecocks victory.

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