David Cloninger

Gamecocks get passing grade in first test of Muschamp era

Dig in on defense, and get a big play to win.

Muschamp 101.

South Carolina’s season-opening win wasn’t gorgeous, was barely over a gag reflex. But there’s nothing prettier than a win, and the Gamecocks got it, on the road, in the SEC, after starting with a 10-0 deficit.

It was USC’s weary defense, holding Vanderbilt to 242 yards and limiting Ralph Webb to 97 yards on 20 carries. Then Elliott Fry nonchalantly booted a career-long 55-yard field goal with less than a minute to go and the Gamecocks quickly snuffed the Commodores’ feeble last drive.

“We had the plays when we had to make plays to win the game,” said a sweaty but smiling Will Muschamp.

The game was a perfect example of how Muschamp wants to win. In the first half, USC tried to run the ball but its offensive line wasn’t up to the task. Vanderbilt’s defensive front was switching too much, twisting around too quickly for USC to get a handle on it, and most runs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Dropped passes, penalties and Brandon McIlwain’s fumble had the Gamecocks in a self-inflicted hole but Muschamp calmly addressed his team at halftime, telling them they were still in great position to win.

And then they were.

Perry Orth rallied the offense with a steady hand, finding the acrobatic Bryan Edwards and then tailback A.J. Turner in a couple of coming-out parties. While the defense valiantly tried to get one more stop, it got its break: Vanderbilt’s Tommy Openshaw hooked what would have been a lead-taking field goal left and USC had the ball 73 yards away, nearly four minutes and three timeouts.

Passes to the middle. Turner up the gut. Clock burning but all playing into the plan. Muschamp and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler had checked the wind in the pre-game and picked it so they’d be kicking with it in the fourth; it paid off as Fry lined up with his back to the breeze.

It went through and USC was 1-0 and for at least two days, in first place in the SEC. Lot of things to work on, lot to repair.

But that’s always easier after a win.

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