South Carolina’s coaches talked in detail over the past week regarding the defense’s inability to create turnovers.
The Gamecocks recorded one in the first two games — North Carolina’s muffed punt in the season opener.
But during the Gamecocks’ 35-25 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday night, Jimmy Legree made a play that helped save the game and send the Gamecocks to their 13th straight home victory.
The Commodores had trimmed a 25-point second-half deficit to 10 points and had the ball at the USC 5-yard line with a chance to pull within a score with less than nine minutes remaining.
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Legree was lined up one-on-one, and he broke in front of the receiver for USC’s first interception of the season.
“When the receiver came out, he had a wide split, which was very rare to be that wide to run a fade route. So, I figured they would run a slant, so I took a chance and that’s what they ran and I made a play,” Legree said. “That play, I felt like I kind of sealed the deal. It felt good.”
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward had a hunch Vanderbilt might try a slant in that situation. They had not run a slant all season, and Legree jumped the route for the easy pick.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin would happily have attempted a field goal on fourth down to pull within seven points.
“It was the perfect call,” Franklin said. “They overloaded on the three-receiver side, and we went to the one-one on the back side. We went with that, and the one-on-one didn’t win. He got beat. You throw it away or pull it down and run and live to play another day. You don’t force the ball.”
A week after South Carolina had defensive coaches in a shoving match on the sideline, the defense seemed to correct most of the miscues that resulted in Georgia rolling up 536 yards and 41 points. Players talked earlier in the week about calls coming in slow from the coaches that left them out of position. That didn’t totally disappear as the defensive backs looked confused on more than one occasion, including on a 19-yard screen pass that resulted in the Commodores’ second touchdown in 13 seconds during the fourth quarter.
Several defensive backs had a heated discussion at the goal line, but it all worked out in the end.
Two of the four Vanderbilt scoring drives came after South Carolina turnovers gave them a short field. The Commodores had scoring drives of 1 and 19 yards and managed 268 yards — including 95 in the first half when the Gamecocks jumped to a 28-10 lead.
Chaz Sutton had 11/2 sacks as USC sacked Austyn Carta-Samuels five times.
Jadeveon Clowney, who finished with four tackles and a sack, forced the first turnover of the night for the defense. He came in from the left side, used an outside move on the Vanderbilt right tackle and stripped Carta-Samuels. Kelcy Quarles recovered, and the Gamecocks’ defense had their first forced fumble after playing 157 minutes and 20 seconds.
“I was just doing my job,” Clowney said. “We talked about it all night, doing your job. I put a move on the offensive line and just made a play.”
Ward came away much happier with the performance than he was a week ago.
“Any time you win, it is encouraging, and the biggest stat of the night was that we held them to 2-of-12 on third downs,” Ward said. “If we can get off the field on third down, then you see our offense can score some points.”