Rapid reaction: South Carolina rallies to take down Vanderbilt
It was no surprise that two defensive-minded head coaches with plenty of questions at quarterback entering the game struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Then, they each played two quarterbacks in the first half, and that was a pretty big surprise for Vanderbilt. Barring injury, no one expected to see Wade Freebeck in the first half. Overall, the crowd of 30,304 wasn’t treated to much offense.
A 55-yard, career-long field goal from Elliott Fry with 35 seconds remaining was the difference for the Gamecocks, 13-10.
What it means: Both teams have plenty of work to do, though their defenses were mostly strong. South Carolina didn’t answer any questions at quarterback as the offense was lackluster under Perry Orth, except for a couple long passes in the third quarter, and the Vanderbilt cornerbacks jumped the routes with Brandon McIlwain at QB. Vanderbilt’s defense, which drew plenty of preseason praise and talk of getting to a bowl, so far lived up to expectations. With another home game next week, and Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky on the horizon this month, the Commodores have a chance to build momentum.
What I liked: The methodical Vanderbilt offense had 12 minutes of possession when Khari Blasingame’s short touchdown run made it 10-0 less than a minute into the second quarter. Star running back Ralph Webb also got off to a good start with eight carries for 39 yards in the first quarter alone. The beefier Blasingame, a converted linebacker, could provide a formidable one-two punch, especially to drain the clock late in games.
What I didn’t like: South Carolina’s start to the game could be blamed on some combination of nerves and mental mistakes. On the opening kickoff, A.J. Turner stutter-stepped his way out of the end zone by a toe, and then quickly settled for a touchback on a play that was reviewed. Then, there was a series of penalties, including four in the first quarter. Before Orth, the starting quarterback, was replaced by McIlwain, he was 1-for-4 passing for 12 yards, and the Gamecocks had 23 yards. McIlwain had a good start with eight yards on his first play from scrimmage, but a fumble after he made a first down spoiled promising field position. Both showed flashes, but neither showed the kind of consistency the Gamecocks need moving forward.
Who’s the man: Blasingame offered just the beef the Vanderbilt backfield needed as a backup to Webb, and it came early with a short-yardage carry for the first touchdown of the game. He had 10 carries for 48 yards and the TD after three quarters. South Carolina’s A.J. Turner, meanwhile, was impressive with several long runs and averaged more than five yards per carry. He brought an energy not seen by backfield mate David Williams.
Key play: Elliott Fry’s 55-yard field goal would’ve been good from 60 as the senior, who was named Second-Team All-SEC by the league’s coaches in 2014, led the Gamecocks to the victory.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores appeared to have a go-ahead field goal in reach when Tommy Openshaw lined up a 44-yarder, but it sailed wide left with 3:44 remaining. It spoiled a combined 25 rushing yards from Webb and Blasingame, and a 24-yard catch by Webb on that drive alone.
South Carolina: Gamecocks running back A.J. Turner had a 20-yard run on first down with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter to move the ball to the Vanderbilt 8-yard-line. That set up South Carolina’s first touchdown of the season, an end around sweep from receiver Deebo Samuel with 7:30 remaining.
What’s next: Vanderbilt will play host to Middle Tennessee State, while South Carolina travels to Mississippi State.