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A tight game places considerable focus on an embarrassing blown call on a pivotal play.
It was a ballsy call. With three timeouts left, Vanderbilt elected to go for it with under two minutes left and a fourth-and-seven facing them from inside their own territory. Ninth-ranked South Carolina led 17-13, and only a big drive would save the Commodores.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers stepped up into a Gamecock blitz and delivered a perfect strike downfield to Jordan Matthews. The pass struck Matthews in the hands. Well, one hand. The other was being pulled away by a Carolina defender. The ball caromed to the turf.
No flag. No pass interference. South Carolina ball.
That call sealed Vandy's fate as the Gamecocks ran out the clock to win college football's season opener 17-13. The 'Dores fell to 0-1 despite a big effort from a rebuilding defense in one of Vandy's biggest games of the season. With the win, South Carolina put in the work to validate their top 10 ranking.
Vanderbilt took a 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter behind a solid performance from Rodgers and a monster night from his top wideout Matthews. The junior receiver scored the game's biggest touchdown with a 78-yard score in the second quarter that helped Vandy knot things at 10-10 headed into the half. That score could have been 13-10 after Carey Spear apparently drilled his second field goal of the game from 49 yards out. Unfortunately, that was called back after a false start drove the 'Dores back five yards. After losing those key yards, coach James Franklin decided to try a deep bomb to the end zone, but that play failed when Rodgers was stripped at the line of scrimmage.
The 'Dores eventually got that 13-10 lead on a 44-yard Spear kick, but it wouldn't hold. South Carolina opened up the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that gave them a 17-13 lead after a one-yard Marcus Lattimore dive. That touchdown was his second of the game.
The teams traded possessions until Vandy got the ball back with just over five minutes to play. A Rodgers scramble got the ball to the Vandy 37, but the 'Dores stalled out behind a costly Chaz Sutton sack. That led to the fourth-and-seven that will live in Commodore lore as the latest example of the team's lack of favor amongst SEC referees. Matthews's held arm probably could have been called as a pass interference penalty, but no flag came.
Of course, that mistake wasn't what doomed Vanderbilt. Early mistakes cost the team points, and their inability to hold the Gamecocks after that turnover on downs was what eventually sunk them. While the referees will be an easy target for the fans' frustrations, this loss eventually comes down on the team itself.
Even so, the 'Dores held a high-octane Carolina offense to just 17 points behind a defense that was thought to be the team's weakest link. While the result will still go down as a loss, it was an encouraging step forward for Vanderbilt football. Unfortunately, it was still not enough to erase the demons of the close-but-no-cigar results of the past.