Vanderbilt, South Carolina kick off SEC season

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores and coach Derek Mason know only too well just how big an opportunity they have in their season opener.

The can kick off the year with a win at home, and against a Southeastern Conference opponent to boot.

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It’s something they’ve failed to do in each of the past two seasons under Mason, and now they get to try again tonight when they host South Carolina on national television.

“We need momentum, and I think that’s what we’re talking about,” Mason said. “We’re talking about a chance to see something we haven’t had an opportunity to do since I’ve been here.”

Vanderbilt hasn’t opened the season with a victory since 2011 against Elon. The Commodores bounced back nicely the last time they opened a season losing to an SEC team, going 9-4 in 2013 after losing to Mississippi. But Mason, who’s revamped his coaching staff almost entirely since arriving on campus in 2014, is just 7-17 and is expecting to build on last year’s 4-8 record.

“We’re a team that’s got to earn respect,” Mason said. “That drives this team.”

South Carolina has won seven straight in this series and even got its lone SEC win against Vandy last season after Steve Spurrier stepped down. Now Will Muschamp is in charge trying to turn around the Gamecocks after a 3-9 record that was the league’s worst. It doesn’t help that the schedule has the Gamecocks on the road for their first three SEC games to kick off the season, making this opener even more crucial.

“As all first ball games, you go in expecting anything and making sure your players are able to adjust to all the different things that pop up throughout the game,” Muschamp said. “There are going to be some new things and you’ve got to be able to adjust as the games goes. That’s going to be really important, especially for us.”

QB shuffle
Muschamp has held off on naming a quarterback starter until game-time with nobody rising up to grab the job, and the coach says the Gamecocks could use at least two quarterbacks against the Commodores. Senior Perry Orth has the most experience, starting eight games a year ago with a 78-yard TD pass helping beat Vandy 19-10 in Columbia. Freshman Brandon McIlwain enrolled in January, while freshman Jake Bentley arrived in June.