The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina defense barely holds off Vanderbilt

Gamecocks pile up 579 yards of offense

As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier exited his press conference, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward entered for his.
“Whammy, we didn’t give up 300 yards,” Spurrier barked from the doorway.

Ward didn’t say anything and just plopped into his seat, his expression blank as reporters laughed at his reaction. His unit’s play was a step in the right direction, but not worth a celebratory smile.

It was the offense, not the defense that ultimately sealed the Gamecocks’ 35-25 win over Vanderbilt. But in a change from last week’s loss at Georgia, the defense made enough plays at the right time to protect the lead.

“We’re all happy,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes crap happens and you lose a game like that.”

The crap Spurrier referred to were the special teams’ blunders. With USC clinging to a 35-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Shon Carson fumbled on a kickoff return, giving the Commodores the ball on the South Carolina 19-yard-line. Two plays later, a Vanderbilt touchdown narrowed a once 28-point lead to a 10-point one.

Vanderbilt failed to get a first down on its next drive, but another error on special teams gave the Commodores possession back with a short field, as it was T.J. Gurley that fumbled on the punt return this time.

Facing a third-and-goal at the Gamecocks’ 5-yard-line, Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels threw to his receiver on the slant route, but cornerback Jimmy Legree was there instead, intercepting the pass on the goal-line.

“When the receiver came out, he had a wide split,” Legree said. “It is really rare that he would run a fade route with that wide of a split, so I thought that the only route he would run there was a slant. I just took a chance, and that is what he ran, so I made the play.”

The Gamecocks finished the game mistake-free, keeping the Commodores at bay for good. Though the defense came through in the end, South Carolina’s offense was the star, and it has been all season. Even in the loss to Georgia, USC put up 30 points, a feat it only accomplished in an SEC road game once last season, against a Kentucky team that finished tied for last in the SEC. But against the Bulldogs, 30 points weren’t enough because of a defense that surrendered 41.

The offense was much of the same as it has been to start the season in Saturday’s game. The first touchdown was a 12-yard pass that used the same connection from quarterback Connor Shaw to wide receiver Nick Jones that USC has scored three touchdowns with already this season. The swing and screen passes from Shaw to Mike Davis that created big gains in the first two games led to a similar one in the first quarter, a 38-yard completion that set up a 4-yard touchdown run for Davis. USC had 579 yards of total offense, and Shaw was 21-of-29 with 284 passing yards and three touchdowns.

“I was thinking, ‘This might be the best we’ve played on offense since I’ve been here,’” Spurrier said. “But it was the first quarter.’”

The first four drives became the first four touchdowns of the game, giving the Gamecocks a 28-0 lead that ultimately put the game out of Vanderbilt’s reach. The first punt of the night came from Spurrier when an interception by quarterback Dylan Thompson meant the Gamecocks couldn’t extend their lead to 35-0. Spurrier tossed off his visor and kicked it several yards in front of him, disappointed that the Gamecocks only had a 21-point lead.

The worry was warranted. Vanderbilt started its drive after the interception at South Carolina’s 1-yard-line, and running back Jerron Seymour walked in the touchdown on the next play through a hole so large, the marching band could’ve filed in through it. As the Gamecocks’ offense slowed in the second half, the Commodores reeled off 15 points to get within striking distance.

Legree’s timely interception saved the Gamecocks from an even more devastating loss than the one it suffered last week, and the defensive performance went from mediocre to encouraging. Though there was reason for the optimism USC expressed about the defense after the game, there was also reason for relief that the next week is a bye.

“We played better,” Ward said. “Some situations occurred that we could be better in, so we will address some of those issues.”


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