These three X-factors are crucial when South Carolina football takes on Vanderbilt

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South Carolina’s season resets on Saturday.

Sitting at 3-3 and 0-3 in Southeastern Conference play, USC welcomes league doormat Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-2 SEC) to Columbia for a 4 p.m. kickoff.

Here are three X-factors when the Gamecocks and Commodores take the field at Williams-Brice Stadium:

RB Kevin Harris

Junior running back Kevin Harris looked closer to form on Saturday in Knoxville as he notched the first two touchdowns of his 2021 campaign. That said, this feels like the kind of game Harris can springboard into success in the second half of the season.

In last season’s game in Nashville, Harris grounded and pounded his way to 171 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries — including an 88-yard touchdown scamper. For context, he’s got 300 yards and two TDs on 63 touches through six games this season.

Harris has said he’s fully healthy after missing the season opener and some time during camp due to an offseason back procedure and an undisclosed illness. Saturday’s contest at Tennessee was the first glimpse we’ve seen this year of the talented tailback that led the SEC in rushing a season ago.

Facing a Vanderbilt defense that’s allowing just under 200 yards per game on the ground, expect Harris and running mate Juju McDowell to be big pieces in Saturday’s contest.

WRs Josh Vann/Jalen Brooks

Sticking with the offense, it’s been a quiet couple of weeks for South Carolina’s two most prolific playmakers on the outside.

After starting the season on a tear, Josh Vann has been limited to nine catches for 83 yards. He also hasn’t recorded more than 45 yards in a game since Week 3 at Georgia.

A hamstring injury did limit Vann’s availability against Troy two weeks ago — though he finished the game with 45 yards receiving and another 52 yards rushing — but the Gamecocks need more out of him as their No. 1 receiver to pick up their first SEC win of the year.

Brooks has come on stronger of late after a slow start to the season, but is still looking for that major breakout game. His one-handed grab at Georgia was a flash of what he can do. His touchdown reception against Kentucky also pulled South Carolina within a score of upsetting what’s now a top-15 team.

If USC can get just a bit more from Brooks or Vann this weekend, it’d go a long way in helping the Gamecocks offense open up like offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield has hoped the last few weeks.

South Carolina DBs Cam Smith and Jaylen Foster

Vanderbilt hasn’t exactly been a world beater on offense. The Commodores have frankly been the complete opposite — currently sitting 12th in rushing offense, 14th in passing offense and 14th in scoring in the SEC.

That said, when quarterback Ken Seals has enough time and space to throw, receivers Chris Pierce and Will Sheppard can take a top off a defense.

Pierce and Sheppard are neck-a-neck on the season-long charts. Sheppard currently leads the team with 333 yards on 31 receptions, while Pierce is just behind him at 315 yards on 29 catches. Sheppard is also tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with two, along with former four-star recruit Cam Johnson.

Struggles aside, South Carolina has to be better in coverage than it was a week ago at Tennessee. Cornerback Cam Smith has struggled with injuries throughout the season, but it’s expected he can play on Saturday. Combine Smith with a defensive backfield that also includes safety Jaylan Foster — who’s playing at an All-American level — and USC should have the bodies to limit Pierce and Sheppard’s effectiveness.

The Gamecocks have been largely productive against the pass this season. Facing a Vanderbilt team that has had its own issues in moving the ball, the Gamecocks can’t get lackadaisical on the back end or afford any broken coverages on Saturday.

What channel is South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt?

Who: Vanderbilt Commodores (2-4, 0-2 SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (3-3, 0-3 SEC)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559) in Columbia, S.C.

TV: SEC Network

Stream: via ESPN app

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