NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Bend but don’t break is a football motto often used, a term South Carolina is lucky didn’t happen to quarterback Connor Shaw when he took a big hit in the first half by the Vanderbilt defense Thursday night.
The hit on Shaw caused him to leave the sidelines with a shoulder injury late in the first half and return after the second half had commenced.
Luckily for Shaw, strong defensive play shouldered the load in a 17-13 win the season opening day for college football.
Early in the game, the Gamecocks (1-0, 1-0 SEC) were backed by the defense after a couple of offensive miscues. However, the defense stood tall to spring board the offense into a two-play drive that went 49 yards in 21 seconds after an interception by Shaq Wilson on a third-and-goal play from the 5 to give South Carolina a 7-0 lead.
“I was in pain for a little bit,” Shaw said of the hit. “They got into the locker room and started working me out, and I was fine after that. I’ll be going through treatment, about two days a week, about three times. We’ll see how it gets.”
The day started off with off-and-on rain showers at Vanderbilt Stadium before the rain finally stopped in early in the first quarter.
Junior running back Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries, capped the drive with a 29-yard touchdown run.
Lattimore also rushed for the game-winning touchdown with 11:25 left in the game.
“It feels good to just walk out of here with a win,” Lattimore said. “We have to keep it up against ECU — another tough team.”
Lattimore is coming off an ACL injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season. Incidentally, 2012 didn’t start off the way he would’ve liked.
Lattimore fumbled on South Carolina’s 43-yard line on his first touch. A mishap he credited to “nerves.”
Lattimore’s second touch went a little better, as it resulted in the first points of the game to put South Carolina up 7-0 with 4:55 remaining in the first quarter. Lattimore’s run was preceded by a 20-yard run by Shaw that was set up by Wilson’s interceptions.
“I was mad,” Lattimore said of the fumble. “After that, I knew we had to score. … I just made a move and started to feel like myself again.”
South Carolina followed Lattimore’s touchdown with a field goal early in the second quarter before giving up 13 straight to the Commodores (0-1, 0-1).
South Carolina was only able to accumulate 63 yards in the second and third quarters after starting the game with 94 in the first quarter (75 on the ground).
Despite a porous passing attack, the Gamecocks rushed for 205 yards with Shaw pitching in for 92 of them.
Shaw went 7-of-11 passing (one interception) for 67 yards. In Shaw’s absence, red-shirt sophomore Dylan Thompson came in and went 0-for-3, while being sacked twice, before being replaced by Seth Strickland, who went 0-for-1.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier claims that Thompson will be the team’s No. 2 next week, despite his ineffective play.
“It was another game where we were behind going into the fourth quarter and somehow won it,” Spurrier said. “So, that’s always a positive, and our guys didn’t give up. I think we’re in pretty good shape. Man, I hope we can play a little bit better offensively next week.”
South Carolina’s defense was able to pick up the slack through the offensive struggles for most of the game. Outside of one missed tackle that resulted in a 78-yard touchdown reception by Jordan Matthews by Jordan Rodgers, the Gamecock defense only allowed a pair of field goals.
Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, finished with 214 passing yards (going 13 of 23), but the South Carolina defense was able to sack him five times and hold Vanderbilt to only 62 yards rushing.
Spurrier knows that defense played a key part in the game as he stated: “Fortunately, our defense held them to 13.”
“There was no time to panic,” Shaw said. “We had to just bounce back. We’ve been through this before. So, we were able to handle this situation.”
The Commodores’ all-around speed shocked Spurrier, but Lattimore took a different approach, as Vanderbilt’s defensive line played as well as he anticipated.
“Coming into the game, I knew it was going to be tough,” Lattimore said. “I knew how good they were going to be.”
Though, Shaw’s injury was categorized as a contusion on his shoulder, Spurrier simply said: “It was just a bruise.”
With a big third down looming, where South Carolina could close out the game, Spurrier asked Shaw if he could close it out.
“With 1:27 left, (Shaw) said, ‘yeah, I think I can get it coach,’” according to Spurrier.
And that’s exactly what Shaw did in front of a screaming Vanderbilt crowd of 38,393. He capped the run off with a silencing slide that rode him straight out-of-bounds on the wet surface.
The Gamecocks were able to kneel the ball after that and run the clock out.
When asked if he can play against ECU (South Carolina’s opponent in their home opener Sept. 8), Shaw simply replied, "absolutely."