What Tonight’s Game Means
By Avery Wilks
Considered by many pundits as a “trap” game for the Gamecocks, tonight’s showdown in Nashville will serve to set the tone for Spurrier’s squad and answer several questions fans have had all offseason. How will Lattimore look in his first game back? Who will step up at receiver to replace Alshon Jeffery? Will the defense be anywhere near as good as they were in 2011? Questions like these can only be answered when Carolina takes the field tonight against Vanderbilt. This is it—the moment we have all been waiting for. If you had trouble sleeping last night, you weren’t alone.
Vanderbilt has talked about this game for months, and August 30 has been circled on the team’s calender since last year. Head coach James Franklin claims that the team’s confidence is as high at it has ever been, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that this is a new era of Vanderbilt football. While many are skeptical that Vanderbilt will be able to surge out of SEC mediocrity (6-7 overall, 2-6 SEC in 2011), fans should understand that anything less than the Gamecocks’ best effort will result in the not-so-unfathomable, a first-week loss to the Commodores.
So what does this game mean for the 2012 season? In a word, this game is critical. This is not your average first week tune-up game against some forgettable FCS team. Against an SEC opponent away from home, Carolina won’t have the luxury of letting the opponent go up 17-0 early in the 2nd quarter like last season against ECU, or of limiting the snaps of players like Lattimore, Shaw, or Clowney. To make a statement early in the year, the Gamecocks will need to show up and play just as they would against Alabama, LSU, or Georgia. After all, winning this game is crucial to the overall success of the 2012 campaign. A decisive win, and the Gamecocks effectively set the tone for a year of SEC dominance. A loss, and Carolina will need a miracle to make it to the SEC Championship Game for the second time in three years, especially when you consider Georgia’s cupcake SEC slate. Simply put, this game is a must-win if Carolina wants to have a shot at an SEC title, and thus is a must-watch for any Carolina fan.