Gamecocks face tough debut against improved Vanderbilt

Ninth-ranked South Carolina, which has a legitimate shot at its first SEC championship, jumps right into conference play Thursday when it visits Vanderbilt in the season opener.

The Gamecocks have won 17 of 21 meetings over the Commodores, including last year’s 21-3 home victory. Vanderbilt, however, is a program on the rise under second-year coach James Franklin.

“They have a lot of enthusiasm over Vanderbilt football now,” Spurrier said. “Our guys realize that this is a big game for us; about the same as the Georgia or Tennessee game. Eastern division conference rivals. Hopefully we’re ready to play well. I think we are.”

The Commodores are coming off only the fifth bowl appearance in school history, and feature a slew of offensive stars led by quarterback Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

South Carolina figures to test Vanderbilt’s questionable defense with a heavy dose of running back Marcus Lattimore, a Heisman candidate who looks healthy after tearing his ACL last October. Lattimore had 150 total yards and two touchdowns in last season’s matchup.

Lattimore, who led the team with 818 rushing yards despite missing half of last season, said he is not thinking about the injury anymore and won’t change his power running style.

With star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery gone to the NFL, coach Steve Spurrier plans to ride Lattimore and a fierce defense led by ends Jadaveon Clowney (eight sacks) and Devin Taylor (six). South Carolina allowed 18.4 points last season, third-fewest in the SEC.

The Gamecocks have won nine of 11 games against Vanderbilt in Nashville.

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