NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight, the importance of Saturday’s game for Vanderbilt hasn’t changed despite the circumstances.
“The approach is the same approach – to go 1-0 weekly by executing our gameplan and playing at a high level,” Vanderbilt linebacker Andre Mintze said. “That’s the same sentiment we started with in Week One and that’s the sentiment we’re going with into Week Three.”
Mintze and the Commodores are 0-2 after defeats at No. 10 Texas A&M and at home to No. 20 LSU, respectively. They’ll step onto the field at 11 a.m. Saturday against a winless South Carolina team just as desperate for a victory.
Both sides will enter Vanderbilt Stadium knowing exactly what’s at stake on the first weekend of October.
“We need the win. Just like South Carolina does, we need to win,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “The opportunity is great. The ability to focus, execute, follow the process, be detailed with the plan and make sure that we’re intentional about how we work together, that’s what the focus is all about.
“We understand where we’ve been, but you got to pay it forward. You can only do that with the work that you put in Tuesday through Friday to get to Saturday.”
Mason’s Commodores have struggled to put points on the board in consecutive weeks. They scored 12 at Texas A&M and just 7 against LSU.
Vandy is 3-for-6 in the red zone this season and has missed two field goals. A true freshman at quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new kicker and two new starters on the right side of the offensive line has contributed to some of those shortcomings.
Mason said Tuesday he and his offensive staff need to find a way to get the passing attack going to complement a ground game that has averaged 129 yards in two contests.
“We’re actively working on pushing the envelope offensively because we need production in the pass game,” Mason said. “That’s going to be important for us as we move forward.”
South Carolina comes to town having lost 31-27 at home to No. 16 Tennessee and 38-24 at No. 3 Florida. The Gamecocks have lost five in a row overall dating back to Nov. 2 when they topped the Commodores 24-7 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Coach Will Muschamp’s squad has done an exceptional job at getting off the field on third down (opponents are only converting 25 percent of the time), is only surrendering 106.5 rushing yards per contest and is holding the ball for an average of 35:36 per game – that ranks third nationally.
Vandy has traditionally struggled against South Carolina having won just four times in 29 previous matchups. The Gamecocks have also rattled off 11 straight victories starting in 2009.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Mason said. “Coach Muschamp coaches a physical brand of football. We look forward to the challenge.”
With the majority of the week left to tackle before kickoff, Mason said Tuesday he was hopeful to have running back Keyon Henry-Brooks, wide receivers Devin Boddie and James Bostic and defensive back Jaylen Mahoney return to the lineup.
Those additions will be welcomed for a team that needs all hands on deck to collect the first victory of the campaign.
“We got to be able to attack this week. We get some weapons back. I think the whole idea is let’s open it up offensively. Let’s make sure we can put our best cover guys on the field (defensively),” Mason said. “Let’s get our best players on the field and let’s play.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.