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August 30, 2012
Ellis: USC should excel on 'big-time stage'
Some people view South Carolina as Goliath and Vanderbilt as David in tonight's season-opening matchup in Nashville.
The Vegas oddsmakers have instilled the Gamecocks as touchdown favorites. Most of the buzz surrounding the game has been generated, of course, by Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who has spent the past two weeks chatting up his team and how much the game means to the Commodores.
Former Gamecock quarterback and current radio play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis maintains that USC's experience playing on the big stage will pay dividends in Music City.
"It's a big-time stage, but we've been there before and have done well on the road," Ellis said on Tuesday on 107.5 FM. "Steve Spurrier is a great road coach. Obviously, we know his record in the openers (21-1). I'm very excited about this game."
USC showcased a dominant running game in 2011 by averaging 192.1 rushing yards, and Ellis expects another solid showing against the Commodores in Nashville even with Marcus Lattimore playing his first game in more than 10 months.
"The run game should be pretty good," Ellis said. "I expect Marcus Lattimore to play well along with Kenny Miles. Marcus wants to go out there and show everybody that his knee is doing just fine.
"We could dial up a 200-yard rushing game and a 200-yard passing game against the Commodores."
How many carries will Lattimore get? Ellis said he wouldn't be surprised if Lattimore was given the ball 25 or more times.
Ellis doesn't expect to see many two-back sets from the Gamecocks. Instead, he believes Justice Cunningham will be utilized in the hybrid H-back position, similar to Patrick DiMarco a few years ago.
"He will be that blocking back in the backfield and six yards deeps will be No. 21 or 31 or Mike Davis, who looked very good in practice (on Monday)," Ellis said. "No hint of a problem with his ankle anymore. We have three strong running backs. I think they'll be isolated with a big fullback/tight end blocking for them."
USC has a throng of tight ends and all four could see action tonight. The debut of freshman Jerell Adams could just be hours away.
"Jerell Adams is one of the finest specimens I've seen at tight end for a young guy in a very long time," Ellis said. "I would be shocked if he does not play a lot along with Justice Cunningham and Buster Anderson. I'll be shocked if he's not in the mix for the top receiving tight end this year. He's tough and can block. He is a very good player."
Even if he doesn't carry the ball, Miles could contribute by catching passes out of the backfield. He has 32 career receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown.
"Kenny Miles is fantastic," Ellis said. "He has soft hands out of the backfield, he can block, and he's an overall player. He's so good in so many ways. He deserves to be on the field in a lot of ways."
But USC should make its presence felt, as well, just as it did last year when the Vanderbilt offense was completely paralyzed.
However, Vanderbilt has a new quarterback in senior Jordan Rodgers, whose skills are more diversified than former quarterback Larry Smith, who played most of last year's game and was primarily an option quarterback, meaning he didn't throw the ball often.
"They had only 77 yards of total offense a year ago against the Gamecocks, which is brutal," Ellis said. "But Rodgers is a mobile quarterback. He's not like (his older brother) Aaron Rodgers, who is the best I've ever seen throwing the football. Between him and (Jordan) Matthews, they have a great team at quarterback and wide receiver, and Zac Stacy at the tailback position. And they have a veteran offensive line. They can do it, but they have to find a way to score more points. That's what they haven't done against Carolina."
What must Vanderbilt do to have a chance to win the game?
"I think they have to run right at Carolina and pick their spots to throw it," Ellis said. "It's going to be tough for Rodgers to throw on the Gamecocks, mostly because of the athletes and pressure up front that will make it difficult. I think we're going to put some pressure on them."
In addition to the pressure from the edge by defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, Vanderbilt must also account for spur DeVonte Holloman, who is more powerfully built than predecessor Antonio Allen.
Interestingly, Vanderbilt has little video of Holloman playing spur, so USC could exploit that lack of information.
"DeVonte Holloman has made a lot of big plays for the Gamecocks," Ellis said. "I like his ability out there to cover good tight ends and running backs, but also to go up there and support the run. Antonio Allen was a special player, but DeVonte is capable of making those kind of plays as well by getting up close to the line of scrimmage and causing havoc. I'm looking forward to seeing how he'll play along with all the veteran linebackers we've got."
In 2008, Vanderbilt's efforts in the surprising 24-17 home win over USC was abetted by multiple special-teams blunders by the Gamecocks. Ellis says it may take another special teams meltdown on that level to allow Vanderbilt to win this time around.
"Something would have to go wrong in the kicking game. We allow a punt return, we get one blocked, that would be a big momentum shift for them," Ellis said. "But it will be difficult because we'll have the best athletes out there on the field."
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