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Derek Mason plays two quarterbacks, offense sputters in come-from-ahead 13-10 loss to South Carolina

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This was an uninspiring start to Derek Mason’s third year as head coach.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Three season openers, three disappointing losses. If Vanderbilt’s offense doesn’t improve, Derek Mason may not get the opportunity for a fourth.

The Commodores botched a 10-0 halftime lead as the team’s passing offense fell to pieces in a 13-10 loss to South Carolina on Thursday night. Kyle Shurmur and Wade Freebeck both took snaps at quarterback for the ‘Dores but combined to complete only eight of 23 passes for 73 yards in defeat.

Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame were the team’s only bright spots on offense. The duo combined for 165 yards on 35 carries and a touchdown.

Vanderbilt relied on an intimidating defense to stifle a shaky South Carolina offense early on. The first official play of the game was a Adam Butler sack, and the Commodores held their opponent to just 87 first half yards. The Gamecocks got a bit of a spark when true freshman Brandon McElwain took over at quarterback, but the young signal caller also had a costly fumble in the Vandy red zone that kept his team off the board early on.

The Vandy offense didn’t look nearly as good. The team’s biggest play of the first half was a muffed punt (the Brett Upson special) that led to a 35 yard gain and an ensuing 36-yard field goal from Tommy Openshaw. After forcing a -3 yard South Carolina drive on their next possession, Ralph Webb helped carry the team to a 13-play, 67-yard touchdown drive topped off by a one-yard plunge from converted linebacker Khari Blasingame.

After gaining only 109 yards in the first half, the Commodore offense didn’t have much new to offer after halftime. They began the third quarter with a three-and-out drive and stuck to the philosophy of runs up the middle on first and second down despite Carolina’s growth familiarity with it. Vandy threw another three-and-out USC’s way before quarterback Perry Orth work up and guided the ‘Cocks to a pair of third-and-long conversions before Elliott Fry split the uprights with a 48-yard field goal to make the score 10-3.

Blasingame and Webb helped buoy a pair of moderately successful drives, but the team’s inability to put more points on the board kept the Gamecocks in this game. Orth led his team on a nine-play, 74-yard drive by finding the gaps created by an aggressive, blitz-heavy Vandy defense, gauging the ‘Dores for big gains over and over. Deebo Samuel tied the game on an eight-yard jet sweep a tired home team couldn’t stretch far enough to cover.

That gave Shurmur the ball with 7:30 left and a 10-10 score. Blasingame and Webb combined for all 49 yards of the ensuing drive to set up a 44-yard field goal attempt, but Openshaw’s second kick of the night sailed wide left to give the Gamecocks the ball with 3:44 left in the game.

Orth took advantage. The veteran QB drove his team into Vandy territory before a baffling QB draw on third and five left the ‘Cocks facing a 55-yard field goal as the clock wound down. Mason held on to his timeouts, daring USC to kick the ball. Fry made sure his gambit backfired; the All-SEC kicker drilled a high-pressure 55-yard field goal with only 41 seconds left.

That gave Shurmur one last chance to drive his team back to field goal range, but it was too tall a task. Vandy drove 10 yards in reverse in its last-gasp effort to tie the game.