The tranquility of an upbeat and drama-free preseason ended for South Carolina here Thursday night in wild fashion.
The No. 9 Gamecocks escaped Vanderbilt Stadium with a 17-13 win over the Commodores but left with lingering questions about their quarterback’s health, their offensive line’s rotation and a defense that did a lot of bending but, in the end, did not break.
“Maybe it was good for us,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “You get a little preseason press, think you are hot stuff and man, we almost got that stuff beat out of us tonight. We almost got beat tonight, no question about it.”
Amidst all the uncertainty, South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC) was at least able to fall back on the familiarity of Marcus Lattimore in the fourth quarter. The junior tailback, making his return from a left ACL tear, fumbled on his first carry of the game but rebounded to rush 23 times for 110 yards. He gained 44 yards in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Connor Shaw had to leave the field three times after bruising his right shoulder when he was hit diving for extra yardage. He received treatment and medicine at halftime, he said, and then an injection after the game, but he believes he will be able to play against East Carolina on Sept. 8.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Shaw completed 7-of-11 passes for 67 yards and rushed 14 times for 92 yards, an ugly stat line in a gritty game.
“Gutsy performance by Connor Shaw,” Spurrier said. “It was just a bruise, nothing was out. It wasn’t a sprained shoulder or dislocation or anything. He got hit by a helmet on the back of his shoulder blade. He’ll be sore for a while, but I think he should be OK.”
South Carolina finished with 272 yards, 4 fewer than the Commodores.
“We couldn’t hit much passing so we had to run, get a touchdown or two and let our defense play,” Spurrier said. “Fortunately, our defense held them to 13. It was another game we were behind going into the fourth quarter and somehow won it. That’s always a positive little bit, that our guys didn’t give up.”
Vanderbilt, which gained 77 yards last season against the Gamecocks, had hope when it took the ball at it own 20-yard line with 5:00 remaining in the game trailing by four. However, that hope was squelched with 1:42 remaining when senior safety D.J. Swearinger broke up a pass intended for Jordan Matthews on fourth-and-seven from Vanderbilt’s 38-yard line.
“We had an opportunity to get a signature win here, and we didn’t get it done,” Commodores coach James Franklin said.
Shaw’s status is sure to be the biggest topic in town until the Gamecocks take on East Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium, but it won’t be the only taking point.
The offensive line is now an issue after redshirt freshman Brandon Shell, the team’s most highly regarded offensive line recruit in recent memory, was benched in the first half. Spurrier said Shell was sent to the sideline due to fatigue. He never returned.
Tight end Justice Cunningham, who had 27 catches in the first three years of his career, made the play of the game by hauling in a 20-yard pass from Shaw and holding on despite a hit that drew a personal foul on the Commodores’ Andre Hal. The 35-yard gain on second-and-seven gave South Carolina the ball at Vanderbilt’s 17-yard line and set up Lattimore’s game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard plunge with 11:25 left in the game.
“It really got the energy going that we needed at that point,” Shaw said.
The Gamecocks got on the board first on a 29-yard run by Lattimore with 4:55 left in the first quarter and added a 20-yard Adam Yates field goal to go ahead 10-0 with 11:44 left in the second quarter. The Commodores tied the game with a 78-yard touchdown catch by Matthews and a 25-yard field goal by Carey Spear later in the quarter.
Spear gave Vanderbilt its only lead of the game with a 44-yard field goal with 6:02 left in the third quarter. Matthews finished with eight catches for 147 yards.
“Give Vandy credit,” Spurrier said. “Vandy is a pretty good team. They are fast, and they are quick. They are a well-conditioned team. They don’t have any slow dudes like they used to at Vandy.”
USC: Lattimore 29 run (Yates kick), 4:55.
USC: FG Yates 20, 11:44.
Vandy: Matthews 78 pass from Rodgers (Spear kick), 10:37.
Vandy: FG Spear 25, 6:51.
Vandy: FG Spear 44, 6:02.
USC: Lattimore 1 run (Yates kick), 11:25.
|Time of Possession||31:36||28:24|
RUSHING: South Carolina, Lattimore 23-110, C. Shaw 14-92, M. Davis 1-4, Miles 1-3, Team 3-0, Thompson 5-(minus 4). Vanderbilt, Stacy 13-48, Tate 7-17, Kimbrow 2-5, Grady 1-0, Rodgers 13-(minus 8).
PASSING: South Carolina, C. Shaw 7-11-1-67, Thompson 0-3-0-0, Strickland 0-1-0-0. Vanderbilt, Rodgers 13-23-1-214.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Lattimore 3-21, Sanders 2-13, Cunningham 1-20, Byrd 1-13. Vanderbilt, Matthews 8-147, Krause 2-9, Grady 1-32, Tate 1-17, Boyd 1-9.