Commodores sink Gamecock hopes, 17-6

First Navy, now the Commodores. The #6 Gamecocks spotted Vanderbilt's 17 first quarter points, and that was all the visiting team needed to torpedo USC's hopes of moving into the Top 5, as the home team offense could not muster a single touchdown against the last-place team in the SEC East, and Vandy won 17-6.

This time the evil step-sister won, and the glass slipper shattered in South Carolina's Cinderella season, as the Gamecocks lost to Vanderbilt and dropped to 6-2, and 3-2 in the SEC.

Vanderbilt owned that first quarter after it was gifted to them by South Carolina. On the first three USC drives, the Gamecocks turned the ball over. The first two turnovers were converted by the Commodores into VU points, as Vandy first kicked a 32 yard field goal and then Mackenzi Adams threw a 22 yard touchdown pass to George Smith.

The third was a fumble that was recovered by USC at their own 20, but all it meant was USC was then punting from their own end zone. When USC could not muster any offensive firepower and were forced to punt, Vandy started on the Carolina 43, and made the most of it, scoring another touchdown on a 20 yard Adams' pass to Justin Wheeler to go up 17-0 with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. And that was all they needed. The 17 points were the most allowed by South Carolina in the opening period this season.

The mood was understandably dark when the USC players were being interviewed after the game, and they took responsibility for the loss. Emmanuel Cook said, "We lost to the sorriest team in the SEC. Overall, we didn't play good at all. They won that game." Quarterback Chris Smelley said, "We came out flat. We let Vanderbilt jump on us and we weren't mentally ready to play. Somebody was off all day – a lineman, a receiver, the quarterback – we couldn't get it together." Kenny McKinley said, "It really hurts. Vanderbilt is an SEC team. We had some big goals coming into this game. We didn't take them lightly, but we expected to beat Vanderbilt."

Field position killed USC in the first half. The Gamecocks began their drives in the first half on their own 3, 22, 22, 3, 17, 1, and finally the Vandy 17. Vanderbilt began most of their drives in the half either close to or in Carolina territory, starting from their own 40, the USC 24, the USC 24 again, the USC 43, the USC 45, the VU 35, the VU 23, and the VU 42.

Coach Steve Spurrier said after the game that they felt the game was very winnable at halftime, but the Gamecock offense could not manage any second half points, and failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 19 games. Senior quarterback Blake Mitchell made his first appearance since the LSU game in relief of Smelley, but neither quarterback was effective on this day. Two impressive second half drives by Carolina were killed by Vanderbilt interceptions, one thrown by each quarterback. Early in the third quarter after Carolina drove 63 yards to the VU 13, Smelley threw an interception in the end zone that was picked off by D.J. Moore. In the fourth quarter, Mitchell led the team down to the Vandy 30, before he was also picked off, this time by Vandy's Jonathan Goff.

The story of the game was how the South Carolina offense struggled. They were intercepted three times, had three fumbles, losing one; the porous offensive line play forced both quarterbacks to frequently run for their lives and allowed seven Vandy sacks, and the running game was only able to generate 26 yards net offense.

Vandy's Moore played his high school football at Broome High School in Spartanburg, and he made sure his homecoming to the Palmetto state would not soon be forgotten. He led his team with eight tackles, had two interceptions, and averaged 34 yards on three return kicks, opening the game with a 43 yard kickoff return. He said after the game, "It feels pretty good." Speaking of his team's strong defensive play, he said, "They had a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They had a lot of sacks. He was on the ground a lot."

When asked after the game where the Gamecocks go from here, Spurrier was succinct, "We go to Knoxville." He downplayed the upset factor in talking about his first career loss to the Commodores, saying, "I'm not shocked at losing to Vandy. They're a good team. They were obviously a lot better than us today. We knew all along we were sort of living on the edge at 6-1. We had our chances, and went backwards and couldn't score a touchdown. It's as simple as that." Spurrier's record coming into the game was a sterling 14-0.

Smelley deferred blame from the coaches: "We were well prepared by the coaches – they had a great game plan, but we didn't execute."

The USC defense kept their part of the bargain, holding Vanderbilt scoreless the final three quarters of the game and limiting the Commodore offense to eight pass completions and 146 yards net rushing. Any of the 79,212 witnesses at the game could have pointed to the USC offensive line struggles as key, but the defensive players who spoke after the game took equal blame. When asked about his team's offense, E. Cook said, "It was a little frustrating, but…" He didn't finish the sentence. Everyone knew what had happened.

Looking ahead to next Saturday's game with Tennessee and the rest of the season, Cook said, "We've just got to come back out next week and try harder. We just have got to bounce back. Good teams bounce back… this is our chance to prove it." When asked what it would take, his answer was short: "Hard work."

Kenny McKinley was clearly taking the loss hard. He said, "We've got some big SEC games left to play and the way we're playing, we might not win another game."

The only injuries to report after the game from the Carolina locker room were a rash of bruised egos.

The Gamecocks are still in the hunt for the SEC East title. USC, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia all have two losses in the conference after today's games.

South Carolina will travel to Knoxville next Saturday to play the Volunteers. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN, and will begin at 7:45. The Volunteers also lost a critical SEC matchup 42-17 today to Alabama, and the loser of next week's matchup will all but be out of the SEC title race with their third loss.

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