Commodores Move Focus to Carolina

Vandy begins tough November with matchup against Gamecocks

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Still riding the highs of a 21-14 win over a ranked Missouri team Oct. 19, Vanderbilt resumed practice Sunday in preparation for a daunting, two-game road trip that starts this weekend at South Carolina.

The Commodores (2-5, 1-3 SEC) begin the week one game ahead of last-place Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division. But head coach Derek Mason’s team holds its own fate in its hands with four league games remaining, all against division foes, three of whom are in front of them on the table.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday and the game will be televised by the SEC Network.

“We’re just going to make sure we stay the course, not going to panic, you’re going to go into a hostile environment, you got to play a good football team who knows how to get after you and get you behind the chains,” Mason said Tuesday. “You got to try to stay out of those situations.

“This team has got to do a better job of being one-take players, one-take units. You line up and you play football and if you make a mistake you correct it and you try not to make the same mistake twice.”

Mason said last week that redshirt junior Mo Hasan would be the team’s starting quarterback moving forward – if healthy. Hasan rushed for 34 yards on nine carries and threw for 120 yards on seven completions in the Missouri win, but took a vicious hit to the head in the third quarter and didn’t return to action.

Senior Riley Neal came in to throw the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Cam Johnson. If Hasan can’t go against South Carolina, Mason will likely look to Neal to lead the offense.

“For (Hasan), he understands where we sit today and what we continue to do is make sure that, whether it’s (Hasan) or anybody else, the person under center knows how to utilize the weapons around him,” Mason said. “This offense isn’t just about the quarterback. How do we give ourselves the best opportunity to get the ball to playmakers?”

Vandy will be looking for its first winning streak of the year and will do so against a South Carolina unit that has been up and down all season. The Gamecocks (3-5, 2-4 SEC) started the campaign with a loss to rival North Carolina, regrouped later to knock off Kentucky and No. 8-ranked Georgia (No. 3 at the time), then lost two straight to Florida and Tennessee, respectively.

Freshmen Ryan Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner have played QB for South Carolina after starter Jake Bentley went out with an injury in the opening week. Thus, the Gamecocks have struggled to throw the ball and rank toward the bottom of college football in passing yards per completion and passing efficiency.

Coach Will Muschamp’s team has been relatively solid defensively, however, and also averages 182 rushing yards per game.

“This defense is a defense that gives you problems – and it starts up front. They’re good up front,” Mason said. “They got two of the best interior players in this conference and another guy in (linebacker D.J.) Wonnum who can get after you. For us it’s very important that we’re smart and we understand who we are and we try to take advantage of the things that we see. But let’s not beat ourselves.”

The matchup with South Carolina has not been kind to Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have beaten Vandy 24 out of 28 times, 11 out of 13 times in South Carolina and 10 in a row dating back to 2009.

Vanderbilt’s last win in the series came in 2008 and its last win in Williams-Brice Stadium came in 2007.

“Coach Mason mentioned it once this morning and then we kind of left it alone,” Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb said of the 10-game losing streak. “We realize that South Carolina is a talented team and we have to play.

“There’s always hidden goals in everybody’s mind, I think. But the first-and-foremost goal has to be to prepare everyday and to go into the game confident in our own abilities and play it out. Got to play the game.”

• At 2-5, Vanderbilt needs to at least go 4-1 over its final five games to make the postseason for a third time in four seasons. The five remaining opponents for the Commodores are a combined 19-21.

• Two Commodores claim South Carolina as home in redshirt-junior defensive lineman Brandon Maddox and true freshman defensive back Jaylen Mahoney. Mahoney, from Rock Hill, South Carolina, has four tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery while Maddox, from North Augusta, South Carolina, has two tackles and a sack.

• Vanderbilt senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is averaging 6.76 yards per carry, the most by a Vandy running back in program history with at least his total of 288 attempts (Zac Stacy averaged 5.4 after 581 attempts).

• In 19 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn now has 1,947 rushing yards – the 10th-most in Vandy history. He needs 686 yards (137.2 ypg over the next five games) to finish third all-time behind Stacy (3,143) and Ralph Webb (4,173).

• Vaughn needs two rushing touchdowns to move past Jerry Seymour (19) for third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list. Stacy (30) is second and Webb (32) is first.

• Vaughn ranks 19th nationally with 132.29 all-purpose yards per game. The senior is also 26th nationally with 100.4 rushing yards per game and 34th with 703 total rushing yards.

• Vanderbilt senior kicker Riley Guay is 18th nationally with a field goal percentage of 87.5 percent.

• Vanderbilt senior Justice Shelton-Mosley ranks 20th in college football with an average punt return of 10.8 yards.

• Vanderbilt sophomore punter Harrison Smith is 25th nationally with an average punt of 44.3 yards.

• Lipscomb needs one touchdown reception to pass Dan Stricker (21) for the second-most TD catches in a Vanderbilt career. Jordan Matthews (24) is first.

• Lipscomb’s next reception will move him past Stricker (182) for fifth on the program’s all-time receptions list. Boo Mitchell is fourth with 188.

• Lipscomb is four receiving yards from passing Chuck Scott (2,219) for sixth on Vanderbilt’s career receiving yards list.

• As a team, the Commodores rank fifth nationally having lost just two fumbles and rank 12th nationally having lost just seven total turnovers.