Late in the second quarter, a commercial touting Vanderbilt University splashed across the screen of a national broadcast on ESPN. It was the third best thing that happened in the first half of the Vanderbilt/South Carolina game for the Commodores.
South Carolina nearly ran the 'Dores out of Columbia early, dominating Vanderbilt in the first two quarters and holding on late en route to a 35-25 victory. Vandy's inexperienced linebacking corps had no answer for USC's mobile quarterbacks, and that proved to be the difference in a high-scoring game. Wesley Tate helped turn things around with a huge second half, but it wasn't enough to deliver the team's first SEC win of the season.
The Commodore defense was adjusting to life without injured linebacker Chase Garnham, but even the captain's presence wouldn't have slowed down the Gamecocks in the first half on Saturday. South Carolina sliced through the 'Dores for touchdowns on their first four drives to sprint out to a 28-0 lead. It wasn't until Steven Clarke picked off a Dylan Thompson pass and returned it 69 yards to the Carolina 1 that Vanderbilt put points on the board. During that span, South Carolina converted on each third down they had until there was only 32 seconds left in the second quarter.
A late Vandy stop and a quick drive into SC territory set up Carey Spear for a half-ending field goal attempt. The All-SEC senior kicker drilled a 54-yarder to cut Carolina's lead to 28-10 at the half and give this team hope.
That optimism didn't last. South Carolina got the ball after halftime and marched 75 yards to push their lead back over 20 points. Brandon Wilds's 33-yard reception on 2nd and 21 crushed Vandy's defensive momentum and challenged their offense to turn this game into a shootout. The 'Dores responded by driving into SC territory, but Jadeveon Clowney stepped up to beat Andrew Bridges on the line and flatten Austyn Carta-Samuels, forcing a fumble and seemingly ending Vanderbilt's last big chance to turn this game into a competitive contest.
Vanderbilt wasn't about to go quietly, though.
Once SC failed to get anything going following Clowney's strip sack, the 'Dores came back with more energy than they'd had all night. Wesley Tate, earning his first carries of the night, ran for 34 yards in the ensuing drive, pushing Vanderbilt downfield out of the wildcat formation to put the Gamecocks on their toes and cut the Carolina lead to 35-17. When Larry Franklin forced a possession-changing fumble on the following kickoff, Tate emerged out of the slot to run a 19-yard screen pass into the Carolina end zone. A two-point conversion to Steven Scheu made this one 35-25 with 14 minutes left in the game.
Vandy threatened after a muffed punt put them in Carolina territory, but Carta-Samuels forced a third-and-goal pass towards Jordan Cunningham that was picked off in the end zone by Jimmy Legree. Carolina responded with a clock-eating, 17-play drive that gave the 'Dores the ball back with 55 seconds and a 10-point deficit. A tired Vanderbilt team couldn't rise to that monumental task, and that dropped them to 0-2 in SEC play this season.
Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined for 466 total yards of offense in the win to give Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop something to keep him up at night this week.Austyn Carta-Samuels had 147 yards through the air for the 'Dores, 106 of which went to All-SEC receiver Jordan Matthews. Tate led Vandy's tailbacks with 71 yards on 10 carries.
Vanderbilt will return next week as they travel to Foxboro to take on UMass in what should be a recovery win.