Vandy Blackout is a Knockout, 24-17

The Vanderbilt Commodores came out dressed in all black, but at the end of the game it was the Gamecocks who were in mourning. Vandy delivered a massive black eye to the Gamecocks' season with their second consecutive win over Carolina, making the most of their opportunities while holding off a valiant USC comeback effort. The final score was 24-17 in the nationally televised contest.

For the second consecutive game, the South Carolina offense struggled in the first three quarters of a game. This time against a better opponent, they also turned the ball over deep in their own territory and made a couple of crucial special teams errors. A solid defensive effort could not overcome the lack of offense and the mistakes, and the Gamecocks lost their SEC home opener to Vanderbilt.

The Gamecocks fall to 1-1 on the season and 0-1 in Southeastern conference play, and will have nine days to lick their wounds before facing a consensus Top 5 Georgia team on September 13. The loss sends a dark pall over the USC hopes for the season, as their toughest opponents lay yet ahead on the schedule. They undoubtedly will lose their #24 ranking in the polls. Vanderbilt deserves to replace them.

Win or lose, a coach must face the media after a game, but USC Head Coach Steve Spurrier didn't feel much like talking after the loss. "We were ready to play; we just got our tails kicked. I'm sure those Vanderbilt players are wondering what kind of excuse the South Carolina guys have now. We don't have any excuses, they just beat us. We didn't play very well. They had good pressure on the quarterback and that is just the way it happens."

The night started well for the Gamecocks. After holding the Commodore offense and forcing a punt, the USC offense could not generate a first down and was also forced to punt, and Darian Stewart forced Vandy's tailback Gaston Miller to fumble the ball; then Stewart recovered the fumble and advanced it to the Commodore 20 yard line. After gaining a first down, Carolina suffered a sack and a penalty and faced a third and long goal at the 19 when Smelley hit Kenny McKinley on a perfectly timed throw to the left side of the end zone for a touchdown. The Gamecocks drew first blood and led 7-0 at that point.

After trading punts, Vandy's Darlron Spead intercepted a Smelley pass at the VU 29 and returned it 41 yards to the SC 30. Chris Nickson led his team down the field to a first and goal at the SC 4 yard line, but the Gamecock defense turned them away three times, forcing Vandy to kick a field goal, and South Carolina's lead was cut to 7-3.

On Carolina's next drive the Gamecock offense drove down to the Vanderbilt 24 before stalling and Ryan Succop kicked a 41 yard field goal to put USC back up by 7, 10-3 as time expired in the half.

The third quarter belonged to the Commodores. The Vandy defense forced USC to a quick three and out on the opening drive of the half, and then took over after the punt on their own 28. They too were forced to punt, but in one of the key plays of the game, the ball touched the foot of Gamecock special teams' player Addison Williams, and the Dores' Ryan Hamilton jumped on the ball, giving VU new life at the Gamecock 31.

Of the key play, special teams coach Ray Rychleski said, "You saw it, you all saw it. You tell me how to coach that."

In Spurrieresque style, Commodore quarterback Chris Nickson struck quickly after the turnover and hit Brandon Barden in the end zone for a 31 yard completion and a game-tying touchdown that only took seven seconds off the play clock.

South Carolina drove 71 yards on a drive that started at their own nine, and then watched in horror as Ryan Succop's field goal attempt was blocked by Greg Billinger, and Vandy's John Stokes advanced the ball 15 yards to the VU 42. For the first time this season, the Carolina opponent drove the ball down the field and scored on the USC defense, and the Gamecocks found themselves facing a 17-10 deficit with 3:53 left in the quarter.

The Gamecocks drove to the VU 31 before they again stalled, and Ryan Succop then missed a field goal attempt from 48 yards out. Vandy took over and scored on a Jared Hawkins 13 yard touchdown run, putting the Commodores up 24-10.

With their backs against the wall, the Gamecocks again had their best offensive showing late in the game when Smelley led his team down the field, the drive capped by a five yard touchdown reception by Freddie Brown that pulled USC within 24-17 after the PAT. It was Brown's first career touchdown reception at USC.

The USC defense held the Commodores to three-and-out and got the ball back, but were unable to capitalize on offense and chose to punt the ball back with 2:34 left in the game. The Commodores were able to rush for two decisive first downs and run out the clock and secure the win.

USC star receiver Kenny McKinley had to leave the game in the first half with an injured hamstring and did not return. He did set the school record for consecutive games with a reception for his 35th straight game. Tight end Jared Cook became the go-to guy for Smelley and had a career night, grabbing eight receptions for 111 yards.

There were 36,850 in attendance. The game was televised nationally on ESPN.

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