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Commodores lament lost opportunities

South Carolina sophomore wide receiver No. 4 Jason Barnes does not come up with a pass in front of Vanderbilt safety No. 38 Sean Richardson.
South Carolina sophomore wide receiver No. 4 Jason Barnes does not come up with a pass in front of Vanderbilt safety No. 38 Sean Richardson.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson set the tone with his postgame comments after watching his team's two-game winning streak against USC come to an end with a 14-10 defeat.

Several players followed suit, and the sentiment among the Commodores was this was a game they had every opportunity to win.

Johnson lamented the fact that the Commodores let the Gamecocks out of a fourth-quarter hole when punter Brett Upson pinned them at the 1-yard line. But he was more upset that USC scored the winning touchdown on a third-and-20 play when Stephen Garcia hit Alshon Jeffery for the 43-yard score.

"We shouldn't allow them to convert a third-and-20 ever," Johnson said. "We could have won. You stop those third-and-20 plays. You don't let them throw it over your head when you have them backed up at the goal line.

"Then when you have it first-and-10 at their 25 with the game on the line, you go ahead and score."

The Gamecocks got out of the hole when Garcia connected with Tori Gurley, who came down with the one-handed grab over cornerback Myron Lewis along the Commodores sideline.

"They hit a couple of big passes when they had to, and that was the difference as far as our defense was concerned," Johnson said. "The guy made a great catch. Myron was in pretty good shape, but he came down with a one-arm, over-the-shoulder catch."

Vanderbilt recovered from those two daggers to move the ball to the Gamecocks 23-yard line late, but disastrous plays on third and fourth downs allowed USC to take possession on downs and run out the clock.

On third-and-8 from the USC 23, Larry Smith was under a heavy rush by Chris Culliver and was called for intentional grounding.

On fourth down, Smith was flushed out of the pocket by Clifton Geathers and was stopped well short of a first down.

"We had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, which is the opportunity we wanted, but we just did not make it happen on that last drive," Johnson said.

Recent history gave the Commodores the belief they could and pull off the upset. Two years ago, the Gamecocks were ranked sixth in the country when Vanderbilt dealt them a 17-6 loss that spiraled into a five-game losing streak to end the season.

Last year in Nashville, Vandy held on for a 24-17 victory.

"We should have won (this year)," linebacker Brent Trice said. "We came in feeling good, started the game with some intensity, but we just couldn't finish it. We have to eliminate the big plays, because that is what hurt us."

Vanderbilt linebacker Patrick Benoist might have summed it up best when discussing the recent history between the two.

"It's always a close game between us," he said. "I think they know that and we know that. Going in, we knew it was going to be a close game. It came down to the wire like we knew it would, but this time they were able to make a few more plays than we did."

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