Derek Mason played two quarterbacks in Saturday's 48-34 loss to #16 South Carolina - but he didn't have a choice.
Mason turned to true freshman Wade Freebeck after starter Patton Robinette was knocked out of the game in the first quarter due to concussion-like symptoms. Freebeck put together a valiant effort and showed why this team has placed their confidence in him, but ultimately fell short in Vanderbilt's upset bid against the Gamecocks.
Robinette completed four of his five passes and led a touchdown drive before leaving the game. Freebeck went 11-20 for 168 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in the loss. Ralph Webb had 97 yards on 19 carries and combined with Jerron Seymour (32 yards) to give the 'Dores a potent platoon at tailback, but it wasn't enough to topple Steve Spurrier's nationally-ranked team.
After three weeks of slow (or non-existent) starts, Vanderbilt scored as quickly as possible against South Carolina. Darrius Sims took the opening kickoff 91 yards to give the 'Dores their second lead of the 2014 season. Two possessions later, Robinette led the 'Dores 60 yards and found C.J. Duncan on third-and-goal to give Vandy a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
That touchdown drive came at a price. Robinette took a big hit after creating a first down at the USC 10-yard line that sent him to the locker room with possible concussion symptoms. The 'Dores would get more bad news when starting left tackle Andrew Jelks joined Robinette on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury of his own.
South Carolina responded by...dropping passes and missing out on big scoring opportunities. The Gamecocks' first half was plagued by mistakes that turned big plays into punts and field goals. USC had three overthrows and one drop that held them to just three points through the first quarter and a half and sparked a current of optimism through the stands at Vanderbilt Stadium.
It didn't last. Dylan Thompson found his range with six minutes left in the 2nd frame. He hit Damiere Byrd right in the numbers for a 29-yard touchdown that made this one 14-10 Vanderbilt with 5:58 left in the half. Vanderbilt threatened to extend that lead late in the half behind the running of Ralph Webb, but Freebeck, playing in relief of Robinette, threw an ill-advised pass to the sidelines that was picked off by Brison Williams and returned 56 yards for a touchdown that gave South Carolina a 17-14 lead at the half.
The Gamecocks capitalized on that momentum coming out of the locker room. Thompson drove USC 75 yards to extend his lead to 24-14 by hitting Shaq Roland in the end zone one play after the 'Dores failed to jump on Pharoh Cooper's fumble in Vandy territory. Sims, realizing that his number had been called, responded in a big way by taking the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for his second touchdown of the night. The two teams then exchanged field goals to make this 27-24 South Carolina at the end of the third quarter.
The Gamecocks struck first in the fourth, converting a pair of third down conversions to march 61 yards and turn this into a two-possession game with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Nick Young. Vandy responded by driving into USC territory, but Tommy Openshaw's 46-yard field goal was blocked by J.T. Sarratt to retain the 'Cocks 10-point lead.
Carolina put that lead in jeopardy one play later when a botched handoff ended up in Vince Taylor's hands. The 'Dores moved deep into USC territory behind Webb's running and came away with a 30-yard Openshaw field goal to cut the Gamecock lead to 34-27. Steve Spurrier's team didn't hesitate to respond. Pharoh Cooper ran the very next play 69 yards to the Vandy 1-yard line and the 'Cocks effectively sealed this game one Thompson dive later.
A muffed kick return led to a David Williams (not the Vandy AD) touchdown run that made it 48-27, but Vandy responded by driving 70 yards in 35 seconds to bring this one back within the Vegas line. Freebeck hit Kris Kentera for a 39-yard gain and then finished things off with a seven-yard touchdown pass to the quarterback-turned-tight-end-turned-receiver to end things on a high note for the Commodore offense.
South Carolina will host Missouri - a team that lost to Indiana today - next week. Vanderbilt will return to action when they travel to Lexington on Saturday to face SEC East rival Kentucky. That game will kick off at the vaunted 11AM start time.