The #19 South Carolina Gamecock football team used a stifling second-half defense and several big plays offensively to overcome an early 7-0 deficit to defeat the Vanderbilt Commodores, 21-7, Saturday night in Nashville. The win snapped a seven-game SEC road losing streak that dated back to a 24-17 win over Kentucky on October 11, 2008.
“It was a good night for the Gamecocks,” South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. “We are very happy to have won the game. A lot of guys played really well.”
After Vandy finished the first half with 180 yards of offense, the Gamecock defense tightened up and held the Commodores to just 70 yards in the second half and only three first downs. It couldn’t have come at a better time, just one week after giving up 21 second half points in a 31-28 loss to Kentucky.
“Our defense played outstanding tonight,” Spurrier said. “It was a wonderful night for the defense.”
“We didn’t get it done,” Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell said. “They loaded up the front and kept moving constantly. We could have done a lot better. We played a good football team tonight and had a chance to beat them. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. There’s no excuses.”
After winning the toss, Carolina elected to kick off. Jay Wooten’s kick went into the end zone for a touchback. The Commodores opened up with an option to Warren Norman for a 40-yard gain all the way to the Gamecock 40. The Gamecock defense stood tall and did not allow Vandy to move the ball any further. The Commodores tried a fake punt with punter Richard Kent, but there was a miscommunication and it went nowhere and the Gamecocks took over on downs.
“They were supposed to execute a fake punt and it was called off,” Caldwell said. “Our punter was talking to the official and I guess the official asked him what foot he was kicking with.”
On the ensuing drive, facing a 3rd-and-3 from the Gamecock 47, Garcia completed the pass to Tori Gurley for the first down, who fumbled and Kenny Miles fell on it. Garcia then hit Jeffery for a 20-yard gain down to the Vandy 32-yard line. After a false start penalty, a Miles 1-yard run and two incompletions the Gamecocks were forced to punt it away and Lanning’s punt bounced into the end zone.
Smith hit Brandon Barden for a 22-yard gain on the first play of the drive to the Commodore 42-yard line. Smith converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 10-yard run to move the ball into Gamecock territory. As was the case on the first drive, the Commodores couldn’t do anything once in Gamecock territory. This time Kent punted the ball out of bounds at the Gamecock 16-yard line.
After a 9-yard completion to Jeffery and a 1-yard first down run by Miles, the Gamecocks were called for their second offensive pass interference in as many games, this time on Gurley. The Gamecocks were able to convert on the first down, thanks to two consecutive passes to Jason Barnes for 24 yards to move near mid-field. After a 9-yard completion to Ace Sanders, Miles finally broke through the line for a 10-yard gain - his longest of the night - and a first down inside the Vandy 25. After a Garcia sack ended the first quarter, the Gamecocks were unable to convert a 3rd-and-17 as Garcia was unable to handle the shotgun snap for the third time in as many games. Lanning’s punt was returned by John Cole at the Vandy 10 to the 17-yard line.
Vandy quickly moved the ball into Gamecock territory, and Smith found a wide open Cole behind the Gamecock secondary for a 35-yard gain to the Gamecock 5-yard line. Three plays later, Smith rolled to the right and found the pylon for a 3-yard touchdown run to cap a 12-play 83-yard scoring drive. After the play was reviewed, Ryan Fowler added the extra point to give the Commodores a 7-0 lead.
Bryce Sherman was only able to return the kick to 16-yard line, but a facemask penalty pushed it to the 31. After two Kenny Miles runs got a first down, the drive stalled as Garcia was sacked again to end the drive. Lanning’s punt was returned by Cole to the Vandy 37-yard line.
After forcing Vandy to punt for a touchback, the Gamecock offense showed a little life moving it to mid-field through a mix of passes and runs. However, Garcia was sacked yet again to end the drive.
Vandy fumbled on the first drive right into a trio of Gamecocks, but Travian Robertson couldn’t get to it and somehow Vandy was able to recover it.
“When it fell I tried to reach for it then it bounced off someone else’s foot and I didn’t see it anymore,” Robertson said. “I should have gotten it. I was so mad that I didn’t get it. It was an opportunity I didn’t take advantage of.”
The Gamecock defense came out and held strong, and with the help of two timeouts, gave their offense one last chance to put some points on the board before the half.
Finally, it paid off.
An 8-yard completion to Sanders and consecutive completions to Gurley for 15 yards moved the ball into Vandy territory. A 12-yard run by Maddox moved the ball inside the Vandy 25 and Garcia hit Gurley again for a 9-yard gain to get the ball inside the red zone. Garcia, after seeing the fade to Jeffery was covered, scrambled and found Gurley coming across the field in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown. Lanning’s extra point was good and the Gamecocks tied the game, 7-7, with just 12 seconds left in the half.
“I think it was big,” Spurrier said of the touchdown. “We didn’t have anything going. We were able to get the ball back and we scrambled. That wasn’t the way it was drawn up but our guys made plays.”
The Gamecocks seemed to open up the second half right where they left off. Garcia hit Gurley on consecutive completions for a 10-yard gain and 12-yard gain, then hit Jeffery for a 7-yard gain. However, facing 3rd-and-1 Garcia tried to hit Jeffery on one of the screens, but a Vandy defender forced Garcia to throw high and it sailed over Jeffery’s head on a play that was ruled a lateral for a 6-yard loss to end the Gamecock drive.
After the Gamecocks held the Commodores to a 3-and-out, Kent boomed a 60-yard punt all the way to the Gamecock 25-yard line. Sanders made a nice over-the-shoulder catch and returned it to the 30. On the first play, Garcia looked for Sanders deep over the middle, but it was under-thrown and intercepted by Casey Hayward, his fifth of the season, all the way at the Vandy 20.
The Gamecock defense once again held the Commodores and Kent again kicked a bomb, this time 53 yards, down to the Gamecock 14. A holding penalty moved the ball to the 7.
The Gamecocks decided to come out in hurry-up mode and it paid off. Three Maddox runs for 19 yards got the ball out of the shadow of the goal line, two completions to Gurley moved it to mid-field, and Maddox broke another one around the left end for 15 yards into Vandy territory. Garcia then hit Gurley in triple-coverage for 24 yards all the way to the Vandy 10. On the next play, Maddox had a clear path to the end zone, but tripped over his own feet at the 2-yard line. The Gamecocks got on the ball quickly and Maddox got in for the touchdown. Lanning’s extra point capped off the 12-play, 93-yard drive that gave the Gamecocks a 14-7 lead. Maddox finished the game with 149 yards on 24 carries - both career-highs - and one touchdown.
“He (Maddox) did excellent,” Spurrier said. “When Brian got his chance, he was making things happen. He got a game ball.”
Vandy picked up a first down on the next drive, but a chop-block doomed the drive and the Commodores had to punt it back to the Gamecocks. Maddox busted a 38-yard run on the opening play of the 4th quarter all the way down to the Vandy 15-yard line. However, a holding penalty pushed the Gamecocks back and they couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. Lanning’s first field goal attempt since the Furman game was blocked by Walker May and the Commodores took over on their 21-yard line.
“It was a big point in the game,” May said. “It was a big play and it was fun to be a part of it.”
As was the case for much of the second half, the Gamecocks forced a 3-and-out, and Kent once again boomed a punt, a 58-yarder that Ace Sanders received and proceeded to lose eight yards on the return, forcing the Gamecocks to take over at their own 13.
With the Gamecocks staring a 3-and-out in the face with a 3-and-7, Garcia hit Sanders with a 16-yard completion to pick up the first down. The Gamecocks quickly snapped the ball again and hit Jeffery on a screen pass that he took 16 yards to mid-field. Garcia’s keeper on 3rd-and-5 came up just short of the first down and the Gamecocks had to punt it away. Lanning’s punt was downed at the 1-yard line, but an illegal formation brought the ball back and Lanning was forced to punt again. Lanning’s second punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
On the Gamecocks’ following possession, Garcia was forced out of the pocket and found Jeffery streaking down the sideline and lofted it just over Vandy’s Jamie Graham’s outstretched arms for a 72-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the drive.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Jeffery said. “I just saw the scramble and went deep.”
“We got the big one with Alshon Jeffery at the end to sort of put it away,” Spurrier said. “Stephen made a play, kept the ball alive and Alshon came down with the catch.”
Garcia finished the game 31-for-39 - thanks in large part to the quick screens - for 355 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
“They were running the same defense throughout the game,” Garcia said of the many screens. “Three-zone blitz. They were blitzing a lot.”
“Stephen, statistically, was very good,” Spurrier said. “I need to go back and give him one (game ball) after seeing these stats.”
Both Jeffery and Gurley went over 100 yards receiving with 158 and 109, respectively as the Gamecocks mounted 484 yards of total offense. Gurley’s 13 receptions ranks second in school history for receptions. Zola Davis and the late Kenny Mckinley each had 14 receptions.
“It was a blessing,” Gurley said. “My mother was sick. I dedicated this game to her. I hope she was watching.”
“We’re happy we won the second half,” Spurrier said. “We have not played the second half well at all in our road losses, but we actually won the second half tonight. We need to try and continue that if we’re going to have a big year.”
The Gamecocks moved to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the SEC. With Georgia’s win over Kentucky, the Gamecocks hold a half-game advantage over the Bulldogs and a full game over Florida. Next week will be a pivotal game in the SEC East race when the Bulldogs and Gators meet in Jacksonville.