Sept. 13, 2013
After two straight home games to open the 2013 season, Vanderbilt hit the road for the first time on Friday afternoon in preparation for its game at No. 13 South Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
On Friday, South Carolina officials announced that Saturday's game was officially a sellout with all 80,250 seats sold. The large crowd will make for another raucous atmosphere inside Williams-Brice Stadium, just as it was in 2011 when the 12th-ranked Gamecocks defeated the Commodores, 21-3, in Head Coach James Franklin's first road game.
At the time, the Commodores entered the game 3-0 and were in search of a massive upset. A lot has changed with Vanderbilt football in the time between visits to Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks are still ranked in the top 15, but Vanderbilt's program has made significant improvements.
No longer are the Commodores viewed as the league's doormat. Back-to-back bowl appearances, including a nine-win season in 2012 has changed that. But if there has been one thing missing from Vanderbilt's resume the last two years it has been a win over a ranked opponent.
The Commodores are 0-6 against ranked teams under Coach Franklin and haven't defeated a ranked opponent since the 2008 Music City Bowl when Vanderbilt beat No. 24 Boston College.
Trivia question: Name the last ranked opponent Vanderbilt defeated on the road? Anyone? Anyone?
The answer is South Carolina in 2007. The Gamecocks entered the game ranked No. 6 in the country with a 6-1 record and were heavy favorites against the 3-3 Commodores. But Vanderbilt had other plans.
South Carolina native D.J. Moore intercepted two passes and quarterback Mackenzi Adams threw for two touchdowns in a 17-6 win. The win over South Carolina tied for the highest-ranked opponent Vanderbilt has ever defeated.
Can Vanderbilt's drought against ranked teams end Saturday?
Friday evening, the team gathered for their team meeting just as they do before every game. Defensive back Andre Hal and offensive tackle Wesley Johnson took turns participating in team's "Hotel Share," where each participant speaks to the team about anything they would like. After the two seniors spoke, Franklin emphasized the importance of giving maximum effort for six seconds at a time.
"I want you guys to play tomorrow for one another; have each other's backs and not let each other down," Franklin said. "I feel a tremendous sense of pride and honor in representing you guys and Vanderbilt. I also know that we can overcome and accomplish and deal with all types of things on that field tomorrow six seconds at a time.
"There shouldn't be one play on the tape on Sunday that you should not feel proud of. There shouldn't be one play that isn't your maximum effort. If we all do that, the game will take care of itself - six seconds at a time."
The Commodores departed McGugin Center before noon and were airborne by 12:20 p.m. CT The flight to Columbia was approximately 50 minutes and the Commodores were on the ground by 1:10 p.m. with the temperature on the tarmac reading 94 degrees.
Once deplaned, the team boarded four busses and headed to the hotel, where players and coaches had a little down time before positional meetings commenced.
For a select few, part of the gap in time between arriving at the hotel and team meetings was filled by speaking with members of Saturday's television crew.
Before each game, television announcers meet with members of both teams to gain a better feel for what to expect in terms of personnel and schemes.
On Friday, it was play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler, color analyst Todd Blackledge, sideline reporter Holly Rowe and the crew's producer and director, who met with Franklin, offensive coordinator John Donovan, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and a few players.
According to Vanderbilt football's media maven, Larry Leathers, Saturday's game will be the first time this television crew has called a Vanderbilt game.
The television meetings concluded at 4 p.m., just as Vanderbilt's unit meetings were beginning. The unit meetings were followed by a special teams meeting and a team meeting.
With an evening game Saturday, wake up is not scheduled until 9 a.m. The Commodores will then have breakfast and walkthrough before having a few hours to relax. A pregame meal will take place at 2 p.m. and the buses will depart to Williams-Brice Stadium not long after that for the 6 p.m. kickoff.
Something Has to Give
Vanderbilt enters Saturday's game having won four straight road games for the first time since 1948 when the Commodores also won four in a row away from home. Meanwhile, South Carolina has won 12 straight at home. The streak is the third longest in school history and tops since winning 13 in a row from 1986-88.