On Saturday Vanderbilt welcomed Shane Beamer and the Gamecocks to Nashville for an SEC East showdown. Vanderbilt, coming off a bye week, had high hopes to get their first SEC win since 2019 against the Gamecocks. South Carolina came into the matchup with an iffy offense that was only going to be further handicapped by the news that their starting running back and main producer on offense, MarShawn Lloyd would be out for the game.
With quarterback AJ Swann exiting the game early and another abysmal performance by the Vanderbilt defense, the three-year-long nightmare of not having a win against an SEC opponent continues for the Commodores and the fans.
Vanderbilt Run Game Shows Signs of Life
Vanderbilt’s already thin offensive line got even thinner with the announcement that Xavier Castillo, Ben Cox, and Gage Pitchford would not play (Robbie Weinstein/247Sports). Despite the lack of depth, Vandy and Ray Davis ran roughshod over the South Carolina defense. Davis ran it 20 times for 167 yards (a personal best), averaging a whopping 8.4 yards a carry. Davis aided by stellar run blocking from the Vandy offensive line had their way with the South Carolina front all game long.
Unfortunately, the stellar effort by Davis and the offensive line could not overcome the host of Vanderbilt’s woes on offense. Quarterback AJ Swann had a tough night at the office against the Gamecocks. On the first drive of the game, Swann tried to force a ball to wide receiver Will Sheppard into double coverage that was picked off with ease. Despite his pick, Swann showed that even though he is a freshman, he can bounce back. Later, Swann delivered a deep shot to wide receiver Quincy Skinner who was double-covered. Swann threw a beautiful back shoulder throw to Skinner, where only he could get it. Skinner, to his credit, did a magnificent job of tracking the ball and hauling it in and running in for the touchdown. Skinner had his best night as a Commodore so far, recording his first, and second career touchdowns as a Commodore. The trio of Sheppard-Skinner-McGowan is something that Vanderbilt fans can look forward to in the future (assuming Skinner comes back for his senior season).
Alas, Vanderbilt could not sustain much scoring success on offense. Swann was injured late in the second quarter and did not return to action for the rest of the game. The Vanderbilt offense continued their success on the ground with Mike Wright in at quarterback but the passing game was non-existent.
Defense Continues to Disappoint
The Vanderbilt defense had an opportunity to get a confidence boost on Saturday when they would go up against what had been an anemic South Carolina offense up until this point. Unfortunately, like much of the season, the defense could not answer the call.
The defense often found themselves in situations where they could get off the field. Third and shorts, fourth downs, but the defense could not figure out a way to stop the South Carolina offense.
The Vanderbilt secondary has been an issue all year long, and it didn’t stop Saturday night. South Carolina threw for 284 yards on the Vanderbilt secondary. They threw it 28 times and completed it 20 times for a monstrous average of 10.1 yards per pass. Coming into the season, it looked and seemed as though the Vanderbilt secondary would not just be the biggest improvement, but the strength of the team. As the season has continued, the secondary has been the biggest disappointment for many fans.
Will the secondary get better? This far into the season, the answer is safe no. As long as teams know that they can just dink, dunk, and even bomb Vanderbilt over the top, the team will have little chance of sustaining any sort of success.
It is long past time for Vanderbilt to start playing more aggressively in the secondary. Vanderbilt’s conservative, do not allow big plays over the top approach is not working. It is time to play with house money, call an aggressive defense, and let the dice fall where they may.