NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks have much in common. They both are desperate with 0-2 records.
There is a sense of urgency playing a 10-game, league-only schedule. The shorten season featuring only Southeastern Conference matchups raises the stakes of Saturday’s game in Nashville for both teams.
“We need to win," Vanderbilt coach Derek mason said. “Just like South Carolina does, we need to win. So the opportunity is great.”
Vanderbilt and South Carolina have each played ranked teams in their first two games. And neither the Commodores nor the Gamecocks have been able to pull off an upset.
Four of the remaining teams on South Carolina's schedule currently are ranked, while Vanderbilt is only marginally easier with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia ranked — all inside the top 15 right now. Vanderbilt is coming off a 41-7 loss to then-No. 20 LSU after an opening loss at Texas A&M.
South Carolina defensive lineman Kier Thomas said nobody likes losing, and the Gamecocks are working to turn everything around feeling like they did some good things against Tennessee and last week in a 38-24 loss to then-No. 3 Florida.
The Gamecocks also have won 11 straight against Vanderbilt, including a 24-7 win in Columbia last year.
“A lot of people on the outside looking in say we’re not very good, and I’m OK with that," Thomas said. "Since I’ve been here, we’ve had to prove people wrong. We’re looking forward to turning things around.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said the Gamecocks have had some self-inflicted issues, like some drops on offense that cost them a chance to flip the field at Florida. The defense also has given up 10 big plays in two games.
“Those are things we can’t overcome right now," Muschamp said. "We’ve got to play cleaner football overall.”
Mason is expecting some healthy players back Saturday. Cornerback Jaylen Mahoney should give Vanderbilt some depth on defense. But the biggest help will be on offense with a pair of receivers in Devin Boddie Jr. and James Bostic and running back Keyon Henry-Brooks to help freshman quarterback Ken Seals.
“We’re actively working on ... pushing like the envelope offensively because we need production in the pass game,” Mason said. “And that’s going to be important for us as we move forward.”
NOT SO SHI
South Carolina receiver Shi Smith has stood out so far this season with an SEC-leading 22 catches in losses to ranked teams in Tennessee and Florida. Muschamp said Smith, a 6-foot-4 senior, has shown the confidence and consistency that comes with knowing he’s a primary option in the new offense under first-year coordinator Mike Bobo.
Vanderbilt has not lost a fumble this season, tied for first nationally so far. The Commodores lost only three all of last season, which tied for third in the country. They've finished in the top 10 for the fewest fumbles lost three of the past four seasons.
On defense, the Commodores are tied for sixth nationally recovering three fumbles. They had five all of last season.
Gamecocks defensive lineman Kier Thomas doesn’t pay attention to who’s in the stands or who isn’t, so he’s not overly concerned about sparsely filled or empty stadiums this year due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions. “I’m just excited to be back,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t really matter who’s there as along as we’re playing.”
The Commodores, who returned seven starters from a year ago, is giving up an average of 29 points a game. That's a big improvement from last season when Vanderbilt allowed 50.7 points a game when playing Top 25 teams.
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