The South Carolina Gamecocks (0-2) will travel to Nashville this weekend to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in week three of this year’s ten-game conference-only season. Both teams are looking for their first win of the season, and Vanderbilt is looking to improve on its 4-25 series record. We will take a look at three critical matchups that will need to go the Commodores’ way if they want to avenge last season’s 24-7 loss.
QB Ken Seals vs. Defensive Coordinator Travaris Robinson
Ken Seals, a true freshman, has earned the starting job for the Commodores, and while not perfect, he has had a solid start to the season. In his first two games, he has completed 31 of his 54 passes for 263 yards with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. While those are certainly not stellar numbers, he did start the season against two of the better teams in the conference. Seals will be looking to take a step forward against a weaker South Carolina team. However, with the quality of USC’s corners, he may be forced to look to his tight ends and running backs more.
On the opposing sideline, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson will be looking to take advantage of Seals’ inexperience. A 5th-year defensive coordinator who played as a defensive back at Auburn, Robinson will try to confuse Seals by changing looks at the line of scrimmage and using his All-SEC level corners to his advantage. Robinson will also likely try to force Seals to make throws and take away Vanderbilt’s rushing attack. Seals will need to deal with the misdirection and make plays to give Vanderbilt a chance.
CBs Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu vs. WRs Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman
On a team that went 4-8 last year, Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu were able to put together quality seasons. Both juniors this year, they earned third- and second-team preseason All-SEC honors, respectively. They will both have a choice to make this coming offseason, as they consider entering the NFL Draft. Mukuamu has been projected as a first rounder in some way-too-early mocks. They are the centerpieces of a fierce Gamecock secondary.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage are Vanderbilt receivers Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman. They have combined for 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, accounting for 60.8 percent of the team’s passing yards through two weeks. They will need to find ways to get open for true freshman Ken Seals, especially if South Carolina stacks the box and sells out on stopping the run. They need to win at the line of scrimmage and get open when they are in one-on-one coverage. If South Carolina blitzes and gets aggressive, they could make some big plays over the top.
Edge rushers Andre Mintze and Dayo Odeyingbo vs. offensive tackles Jaylen Nichols and Dylan Wonnum
Last week, quarterback Collin Hill was sacked four times against 3rd-ranked Florida. Jaylen Nichols and Dylan Wonnum struggled. Even when Florda’s pass rush didn’t sack Hill, they were forcing the ball out early and consistently getting pressure. The run blocking was not much better. Although the Gamecocks rushed for 117 yards against Florida, they averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, and their longest run of the day was just 12 yards—a scramble by Hill.
Lining up across from them will be edge rushers Andre Mintze and Dayo Odeyingbo. Both were named second-team All-SEC in Pro Football Focus’ preseason All-SEC team. Odeyingbo has racked up 13 tackles and a sack through two games, while Mintze has three tackles and a forced fumble. Both will have to step up on Saturday to keep a potent Gamecock offense at bay. After giving up 161 rushing yards on five yards per carry against LSU, they will also have to do well setting the edge and containing the explosive Kevin Harris. Last week also showed that when an average quarterback has time in the pocket, he will be able to pick apart Vanderbilt’s defensive backfield. Mintze and Odeyingbo will need to continue the trend of beating up on Nichols and Wonnum, or Hill will have the chance to gash the Commodores’ secondary.