In a sloppy, chippy and downright ugly first half of football between Vanderbilt and South Carolina on Saturday, yellow flags seemed to hit the turf of Williams-Brice Stadium as often as any player.
For the most part, those penalties went against Vanderbilt, which accumulated nine for 90 yards throughout the first two quarters, while South Carolina took two for 25 yards. And that doesn’t include the five combined unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that offset each other and two others that were declined.
Most controversially, two Vanderbilt defenders, freshman safety Zaire Jones and junior linebacker Charles Wright, were ejected for targeting penalties.
Jones was sent off in the first quarter after he laid a vicious hit on South Carolina receiver Bryan Edwards as Edwards ran a slant to the inside.
But Jones made a scene as he left the field, appearing to gesture to and taunt South Carolina’s student section, which aggressively booed him as he made his way to the locker room.
The next quarter, Wright was the one who drew the flag as he drove through USC quarterback Jake Bentley after he threw the ball. Wright’s helmet caught Bentley under the chin for a hard hit, and he was ejected. He left the field quietly compared with his teammate, but several South Carolina fans still hurled water bottles at him.
“I saw a young man tackle a quarterback,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said of the play. “No shot to the head, just a young man that’s just running to and through contact with his head up.”
In both cases, the penalties were subject to a video review and upheld, and Mason was not pleased with that, while admitting that his team played sloppily in the first 30 minutes.
“When you look at it, nine penalties in the first half – I don’t necessarily agree with the targeting penalties, but it is what it is,” Mason said after the game. “I think they have to do a better job, in this conference, of looking at the replays and getting this stuff right. Because it makes no sense to me to look at replays, OK, and continue to get stuff wrong. But whatever they say goes.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, on the other hand, declined to comment on the targeting calls, which both led to Gamecock scores.