PASSING OFFENSE: C-
Vanderbilt got too little offensive production early on that caused them to get behind by a 28-0 margin. In order to come back they needed to play error free football but the interception by Austyn Carta-Samuels was the straw that broke Vandy's back. Passing wise, Vandy completed its first pass of the game but there few more receptions until late in the second quarter when the 'Dores drove down the field for a half ending field goal. Austyn Carta-Samuels was sacked five times but he also often held the ball for way too long. He also threw that interception in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter. It was a poorly thrown pass that cost Vanderbilt a chance to put some real pressure on the Gamecocks by pulling to within a single score of them. Jordan Matthews led the Commodores with eight receptions for 106 yards. His longest catch was for 29 yards and helped get Vandy in position for the field goal right before the half. Jonathan Krause had one catch for 10 yards; that catch got Vandy in final position for Spear's field goal. Wesley Tate made a great catch in the fourth quarter for 19 yards and a touchdown that pulled Vandy to within 35-23. Vandy then went for 2 and Carta-Samuels found Steven Scheu in the left, front corner of the end zone for a two point conversion.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C
Again, pathetic early on with the 'Dores ultimately gaining only 121 yards on 33 carries for the game but little in the first quarter. However, Wesley Tate was able turn it on in the second half and gain 71 yards on 10 carries. He said after the game that he was mad about not getting carries so he ran harder. To me, this is concerning. He should be running hard all the time, not just when he's angry. That said, he did a really good job late in the game for Vanderbilt and was slashing through the Gamecock defense for sizable chunks of yardage. Jerron Seymour again showed that he has solid rushing ability. He gained 39 yards on just six carries and had the 1-yard run for a TD after Clarke's interception return. He had a nice 20-yard run in the third quarter in a drive that reached the USC 17; however, a Carta-Samuels sack for a fumble ended that drive.
PASSING DEFENSE: D
Connor Shaw completed 21-of-29 passes for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Commodores. At first glance of the stats you might call that a 'F' grade but when you look at Shaw's statistical history you'll find this is about average for him. At Georgia he completed 16-of-25 passes for 228 yards a pair of TDs. Last season he had 356, 272, and 249 (20-of-21 comp) yard performances against visiting SEC schools. So in reality while everyone associated with the VU nation wanted the Commodore's pass defense to do better, it was about average against a player like Shaw, especially for in Columbia. What's disturbing though is that Vanderbilt didn't manage a sack of Shaw or the backup, all night. This after getting four sacks in each of the first two contests. Steven Clarke provided the biggest highlight of the night for the passing defense when we intercepted backup Dylan Thompson's pass and returned it 69 yards to the Gamecock 1. Vandy also got a pair of pass breakups from Andre Hal. Kenny Ladler and Darreon Herring each managed a breakup as well. Linemen Caleb Azubike and Adam Butler each managed tackles for losses but for the most part the VU defensive line could get little pressure on Shaw or his backup.
RUSHING DEFENSE: D
Vandy allowed the Gamecocks 220 rushing yards on 49 attempts. Again, similar to Ole Miss, the Commodores had problems controlling a duel threat quarterback as Connor Shaw led all rushers with 85 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Vandy also struggled with tailback Mike Davis who gained 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Safety Kenny Ladler had his hands full all night and finished with 14 tackles including 10 solos. When the safety has that many tackles then that often means the linebackers and line are struggling. The Commodores certainly showed that they are missing Chase Garnham. To Sealand's credit, he did have eight tackles. Darreon Herring had nine tackles and also inadvertently took out an official on the sideline who reportedly had a concussion. Vanderbilt needs more production from their first and second lines of defense in order to force more punts. You can bet Bob Shoop will get things in order.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Vandy punter Taylor Hudson had five punts for a 47.6 yard average including a long of 75 yards. Kicker Carey Spear boomed a 54-yard field goal that made the score 28-10 at halftime. Spear is living up to his billing as a preseason All-SEC kicker selection. Spear had four kickoffs and two were touchbacks. Kellen Williams forced a fumble on Gamecock kickoff early in the fourth quarter which was recovered by Andrew Williamson and led to a Vandy touchdown. Darrius Sims later recovered a punt that was touched by USC's T.J. Gurley. Darrius Sims is proving to be one of Vandy's top contributing freshmen this season. He had three kickoff returns for 83 yards including a long return of 34 yards. There were no major breakdowns by the Commodore kickoff/punt coverage units.
Vanderbilt found itself in a hornet's nest, facing a 28-0 deficit. However, James Franklin and his staff were innovative and helped the team pick itself up off the ground. The team nearly pulled off a shocking comeback on the road against a ranked team. The use of the wildcat to energize the VU offense was smart and it worked. As Austyn Carta-Samuels gets back in the swing of things after a couple of year layoff playing, he won't make as many mistakes.
OVERALL GRADE: C
It was a bad start but a strong finish. The guys again proved they would not go down without a serious fight. There's tons of work to be done on both sides of the ball and you can bet the coaching staff will be hard at work fixing the team shortcomings. The Commodores now enter a three game series in which it's vital they come out 3-0. The first of the three is UMass on Saturday. The Minutemen are 0-3 but you can bet they will be bouncing off the walls for an SEC scalp in Boston on Saturday. The 'Dores had better bring their 'A' game or it could be a long day.
Vanderbilt Report Card: South Carolina
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