Staff predictions, USC-Vandy game preview

September 12, 2013 

JOSH KENDALL: No nail-biter on tap Saturday

I have been doing my Pro Prospects series with Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com for 16 games now, and it’s one of my favorite things we do each week.

The reason I bring that up here is that for the first time since Norris and I have been doing the segment, he had only one pro prospect to mention from the Gamecocks’ opponent. Now Vanderbilt’s one prospect, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, is a good one, but he can’t carry an entire team.

South Carolina has issues to tweak, for sure, most notably getting its defensive confidence back, and the Commodores provide a good jumping off point for that. If this game were in Nashville, I might feel differently, but the Gamecocks have been a better team at Williams-Brice than on the road recently and I expect that trend to continue.

The challenges get tougher for South Carolina as the season progresses, but Saturday’s game probably won’t be a nail-biter.

Kendall's prediction: South Carolina 30, Vanderbilt 20

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DAVID CLONINGER: Pressure on Ward to fix defense

For once, the spotlight will be off Jadeveon Clowney.

I’m not talking about the TV spotlight. That one will rival the “Johnny Cam” that’s stapled to Heisman-winning troublemaker Johnny Manziel today. ESPN just can’t get enough of ol’ No. 7, he of the freakishly long arms and dreads that if he ever joins Tim Tebow in a prayer circle, will destroy the satellite carrying the feed.

No, the main spotlight, at least to USC folks, is on defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

It’s been a charmed life for the man known as “Whammy” ever since he was handed the reins to the Gamecocks’ defense before the 2012 Capital One Bowl. He’s never had a moment where his abilities were questioned – shoot, the worst game of his tenure before last week was that 44-11 debacle at Florida last year, and that was only bad because of the score. His defense (183 yards) had nothing to do with it.

But last week, everything went wrong. The pride and joy of the defense, the line, let Todd Gurley trample it and Aaron Murray throw over and around it. The young linebackers got younger, not filling gaps and not making tackles. The secondary opened doors to passing lanes all day. And the indelible image, besides the loss, was of two assistant coaches offering some colorful metaphors to each other on the sideline.

Ward knows as well as anybody that he gets the praise when the defense does well and the blame when it doesn’t.

How does he get the defense to respond? Vanderbilt isn’t nearly as frightening as Georgia, but a bad performance or a loss here could sink the season. Whether it was scheme, execution, miscommunication or just a bad day is irrelevant. There is a problem. Ward is the defensive head. He’s got to fix it.

It’s a work in progress.

Cloninger's prediction: South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 14

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