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South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13: Gamecocks Make an Ugly Escape

Connor Shaw shook off an injury to his throwing shoulder and led his team to a 1-0 start.
Connor Shaw shook off an injury to his throwing shoulder and led his team to a 1-0 start.

South Carolina somehow, some way gutted out a victory in Nashville over a very game Vanderbilt squad 17-13. It was by no means pretty, but it still counts in the win column.

The Gamecocks jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Vandy tied it up in large part thanks to a 78-yard TD pass from Jordan Rodgers to Jordan Matthews. Things got really dicey late in the second when South Carolina QB Connor Shaw left the game with a banged up shoulder. With him out until a couple drives into the second half, the Gamecock offense could do precisely squat.

Vandy kept it close throughout and even took a 13-10 lead, but a key sequence set up the game deciding score. Shaw drilled a 20-yard strike to TE Justice Cunningham, and another 15 yards got added on when Vandy's Andre Hal was flagged for targeting. It was a borderline call, but it was defensible in real time. Lattimore jammed it into the endzone shortly thereafter for what turned out to be the game winning score.

Vandy's final drive ended on a fourth down pass that Rodgers threw to Matthews where Matthews was pretty obviously interfered with by D.J. Swearinger. That missed call was not defensible; it was obvious and the ref was in perfect position to see it. Alas, that's the kind of call that Vandy just never, ever gets.

Rodgers had a good line, but his long TD pass on a somewhat busted defense made it look better than what he really did on the game:

J. Rodgers C Att Pct Yards Yds/Att TD INT Eff
Total Line 13 23 56.5% 214 9.30 1 1 140.33
Minus TD Pass 12 22 54.5% 136 6.18 0 1 97.38

He remained composed despite feeling some pressure, and he was good on his feet on designed runs. He's not his brother Aaron, or even another Jay Cutler, but he's fearless and handled himself against a good defense fairly well. He did take five sacks, however, and that's a number that will need to come down in the future.

The two best offensive players were Shaw the runner and Marcus Lattimore. The latter went over the century mark with 109 rushes on 23 carries, and the former rushed for 96 yards on 13 carries. Lattimore was also his team's leading receiver with three catches for 21 yards. You can see there the biggest problem with the Carolina offense: the passing game was awful tonight. Shaw's accuracy wasn't consistent, and backup Dylan Thompson didn't connect on any of his three attempts. This team misses Alshon Jeffery very, very badly.

South Carolina did not look like a top ten team tonight. Its offense had serious issues moving the ball at times, and its defense didn't always finish plays well. That defense also allowed that 78-yard touchdown pass. It looked like a defense with a new coordinator, and while it's true that it does have a new DC, Lorenzo Ward has been on the staff and is running the same scheme that Ellis Johnson did.

It's a blessing for the Gamecocks that they don't have Georgia in Week 2 for once. They're going to need some time to regroup and address a lot of issues. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, lost a heartbreaker partly due to the refs (again). As Steve Spurrier said after the game, "They don't have any slow dudes like they used to." You could see that South Carolina had more and better athletes, but the gap wasn't as big as it usually is. I also can't say with confidence that South Carolina was the better coached team.

You never want to pull too many lessons from a Week 1 game by itself, but these two teams didn't look nearly as far apart as we all assumed.