Many Heroes in Carolina Win over Vanderbilt

Steve Spurrier was happy. He praised his team for their best game of the year, and he praised Gamecock fans, who made up more than a third of Vanderbilt's Homecoming crowd. Those South Carolina fans had reason to be happy too, as they witnessed a convincing if sometimes sloppy Gamecock victory over Vanderbilt 31-13.

"Our guys played well, and I think our guys are becoming a pretty decent team." Spurrier said. "Good win, and we set a record, five (SEC) road wins in a row. We're excited. We appreciate the fans, it reminded me of the Florida days, reminded me of the old days with all the Gamecock fans there at the end. I'm proud of our players. Coach Nix and the defensive guys had a good plan. Our defense played very well."

There were a lot of heroes in this game for the Gamecocks. Sidney Rice entered the 2006 season expected to be one of the best receivers in the country. With the exception of a five touchdown game against a lightly regarded Florida Atlantic team, he had been rather quiet this season until Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, when he caught seven passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Rice's two yard touchdown reception with 9:30 left in the second quarter was the 19th catch of his career, tying the all-time USC record after only one season and seven games. Rice now shares the record with Robert Brooks and Jermale Kelly, who set the record after four full seasons each with the Gamecocks. Rice also had two back to back catches totaling 60 yards on a drive midway through the third quarter that Carolina used to pull away from Vanderbilt, who had closed to within 17-10 on the final play of the first half.

"I just have to give credit to my coaches and to my teammates," Rice said. "If it weren't for my coaches, I wouldn't have the chance to make the play, and also for my teammates who have done a tremendous job." The soft-spoken Rice humbly said he didn't know he had tied the record until told about it in the post-game press conference. When asked about the record, he said, "I'm just focused more on helping my team do better, not so much on what my stats are." Spurrier said Newton and Rice were given game balls for their performances.

Syvelle Newton capped off the drive that Rice had the two big catches with a seven yard touchdown run of his own, and USC never looked back. Newton continued to play solidly in his 5th game at quarterback, completing 11 of 18 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for another 40 yards, including the touchdown run. The Gamecocks have won four of the five games Newton has started at quarterback.

Nor were Rice and Newton the only stars on offense. Cory Boyd ran for over 100 yards for the second game in a row, helping the Gamecocks to eat up large portions of the clock. Ryan Succop kicked the second longest field goal in USC history, a 55 yarder that would have been good for at least ten more yards. That field goal put Carolina on the board to tie the game on the first play of the second quarter, after Vandy had scored a field goal with 5:18 left in the first quarter. Mike Davis left the missing man formation and reappeared for a 15 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and 40 yards total rushing on seven attempts.

The defense gave up a touchdown as time expired at halftime, and Spurrier referenced the missed tackles responsible for that score early in his press conference, but then went on to praise the over all play of the defense. "Nobody panicked at halftime, which is starting to be a good sign around here," Spurrier said. "We're starting to understand that some bad plays are going to happen to us. You just keep playing the game and hopefully some good things will happen. And that's the way it happened today."

The momentum shifted back and forth early in the game, with Vandy scoring first on their field goal after both teams punted on their first drives. Carolina took advantage of good field position on successive drives after Carlos Thomas intercepted a Chris Nickson pass at the Vanderbilt 29, and nine plays later Newton hit Rice for the 2 yard touchdown pass. Then after a short punt by Vanderbilt on the next series, Carolina began their drive on the Commodore 46, and after two big catches by Kenny McKinley, the second for a touchdown, USC led 17-3 and clearly had the momentum.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson said, "They didn't have too far to go. All three punts were against the wind. When you give them turnovers and short punts, it puts everyone in a bad mood. It all adds up. It was a major factor."

Vanderbilt regained the momentum just before halftime with their only touchdown of the day.

Coach Steve Spurrier had said the previous week he would deviate from his norm of taking the ball first when winning the coin toss, but Kentucky won the toss last week and they deferred. This week USC won the toss and deferred, so the Gamecocks got the bal to start the second half. Vanderbilt seemed to continue to have the momentum when they intercepted Newton's pass at the Vanderbilt 46 yard line. They drove the ball down the field and scored another field goal, closing the gap to 17-13 with 5:06 in the third quarter.

The next drive put the momentum back in the Gamecock camp for good, featuring the two long catches by Rice and capped by Newton's touchdown run. They scored again on the Mike Davis touchdown on a drive that mostly featured a balanced running attack.

As Spurrier said, the defense looked pretty solid against Vanderbilt, with the only real shortcoming other than the one touchdown drive coming in the way of penalties incurred by the team. Captain Munnerlyn worked hard to get back in Spurrier's good graces after being called twice for penalties, and it must have worked as Spurrier gave him a game ball as well after Munnerlyn killed the next Commodore drive with a key interception in the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The Carolina defense limited the Commodores to just 1 of 12 successful third down conversions in handing Vandy its worst loss of the season.

The biggest negative the Gamecocks will have to overcome is turnovers. USC ended it's red zone woes in this game, scoring every time they entered the red zone except once, and that drive was ended on a turnover. USC lost three fumbles and had one interception.

Provided Georgia loses one more game, the Gamecocks remain in position to play in the SEC championship game if they win out in their remaining conference games. The team took care of teams they would be expected to beat to remain competitive in the conference in their last two wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but the road becomes much steeper when a rejuvenated Tennessee team comes to Williams Brice stadium next Saturday for a key matchup. One more win makes the team bowl eligible as well.

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