NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As Vanderbilt begins the second half of its 2021 season, it undoubtedly has a long way to go. But the Commodores also feel like they have come a long way already.
Six games into head coach Clark Lea’s maiden voyage there have been major turning points and hurdles along the way: an opening-season loss at home, a road win at Colorado State, a game-winning field goal against Connecticut, a hard-fought loss to Stanford and two shutout defeats at the hands of ranked SEC opponents.
It has all led to feeling this week that the best football is still to come out of the Dores. They’ll try to make good on that promise starting at 3 p.m. CT Saturday when they visit South Carolina.
“We’re just a work-in-progress,” Lea said Tuesday. “I think over the course of the season we’ve seen progress in certain areas and to build and continue to build the program you’re looking for the small wins that we can accumulate, so even when you’re short a result you’re still trying to find the points where there are strengths and performance and build upon those.”
On Monday, Vanderbilt began trying to move forward from its second shutout in as many SEC matchups. A 42-0 loss at No. 20 Florida wasn’t as lopsided as the perhaps the final score would indicate, but that didn’t lessen the sting of another defeat brought forth by numerous self-inflicted wounds and missed opportunities.
While the Commodores totaled 287 yards – 200 of those in the first half – and had more first downs (19) than the Gators (18), they were also 0-for-3 inside the red zone, missed three field goals, threw two interceptions and turned the ball over on downs twice.
“I thought on Saturday we were good in spurts, but good in spurts in this conference sets you up for a disappointing result,” Lea said. “How can we find a more consistent four-quarter approach and be competitive and put ourselves in position to finish a game off on the road which is always a challenge.”
As Vandy prepares to travel to South Carolina, history is not on the Dores’ side. Vanderbilt has dropped 12 straight in the all-time series having last won in 2008, has won just four times in 30 tries against the Gamecocks and has been on the short end of 13 straight SEC road games.
South Carolina (3-3, 0-3 SEC) has dropped 3 of 4 and is coming off a 45-20 defeat at Tennessee. The Gamecocks have lost nine league games in a row.
“Every program is different. Every program is positioned differently, different players, different situations,” Lea said. “I don’t think that you can draw a lot of comparison that way. I think it is two teams that are going to be fighting for a win on Saturday that have experienced varying levels of disappointment but also are improving and finding identity through the year.
“We’ll have our different angle, a different approach based off who we are and coach Beamer will have his team ready to play based who they are. We expect to be a fun, competitive environment where we’ll be excited to have a chance to put the ball down again.”
• Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals ranks 42nd nationally with 19 completions per game.
• Vanderbilt wide receiver Will Sheppard ranks 56th nationally with 5.2 receptions per game.
• Vanderbilt trails the all-time series against South Carolina 4-26.
• Vanderbilt’s four wins against South Carolina have come in 1998, 1999, 2007 and 2008.
• The Commodores have dropped 12 in a row to the Gamecocks having last won in 2008. They last won in Columbia in 2007.
• Vandy’s last SEC road win was Nov. 27, 2018 at Arkansas.
• Vanderbilt has lost 15 SEC games in a row.