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September 12, 2013

Five keys to victory



South Carolina meets Vanderbilt Saturday night for a battle of 1-1 teams looking for positive momentum heading into the rest of the season. Here are five keys to a Gamecock victory over the Commodores.

Play disciplined. South Carolina players on both sides of the ball said this week they were angry about the loss to Georgia. The team is disgusted with its poor play, and the feeling is that the players are itching to take out their frustrations on a Vanderbilt team that can't match up with them physically. And while emotion can turn the tide of a game (usually on a one-play basis, re: The Hit), it can just as easily set up a team to fail.

Consider the safety who, in a rage-driven attempt to deliver a crunching blow to a slot receiver over the middle, cheats up and gets duped by the quarterback's pump-fake, leaving a Jordan Matthews-caliber receiver uncovered deep downfield. Or the defensive end so determined to steamroll the quarterback he leaves his teammates susceptible to an easy screen pass to a tailback.

While playing angry can have its benefits, discipline is more important to the team's success. If South Carolina's defense can stick to its assignments, it should have no problem getting back to its 2012 form.

Win the battle of field position. When South Carolina and Vanderbilt meet, it's not pretty. South Carolina's average margin of victory over the past five games against the Commodores has been 9.4 points. (By contrast, its margin of victory against Clemson over the past four years has been 17.5 points.) And none of these matchups, even South Carolina's 21-3 victory in 2011 (where a certain Gamecock quarterback managed to throw four interceptions and win) have been notably pleasing to the eye.

Ugly games are often decided by field position. It's one of the reasons the Gamecocks lost to Auburn in 2011, as well as the reason they've won so many close games in the past. A muffed punt in the first quarter of this type of game can be the difference in winning and losing, so it's important to limit mistakes and take what the other team gives you. If that means not going for it on fourth-and-10 from the 50-yard line, maybe that's something for Spurrier to consider.

Let Mike Davis eat. An SEC game is no time to play coy with Davis. He's earned a heavy workload with his performances - 313 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns - over the past two weeks. He runs like a bull, and he's consistently been an offensive sparkplug even in situations where the rest of the team looked downtrodden. If Davis gets a Marcus Lattimore-type load against Vanderbilt, I'd expect him to produce similar results.

Get the tight ends involved. South Carolina's group of tight ends said in the preseason they thought they could be the best in the country, but they've barely made a peep since the season started, combining for just two catches and 16 yards. But it's a shame to waste potential NFL talents like Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson game after game, so it's reasonable to expect them to be worked a little more into the offensive gameplan this week.

With talented defensive backs like Andre Hal and Javon Marshall manning the Vanderbilt secondary and likely finding success against South Carolina's receivers, either Adams or Anderson could become difference-makers Saturday.

Contain Austyn Carta-Samuels and Vanderbilt's stable of running backs. Unlike Georgia, Vanderbilt doesn't have one dynamic back that can punish a defense on every down. Instead, the Commodores feature three tailbacks with at least 14 carries and one touchdown apiece and a quarterback who has scrambled for two touchdowns.

The job of containing them will fall firstly on South Carolina's talented defensive line and secondly on the young linebackers. Their success would force Vanderbilt to become a one-dimensional offense, allowing guys such as Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton to tee off on a good number of Carta-Samuels dropbacks.

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