In his first game as head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Shawn Elliott did something that Steve Spurrier had proven unable to do in four tries this season: Secured a conference win. Sure, Elliott was coaching against the Vanderbilt Commodores, and Spurrier had led the team out against a better grade of opponent. But South Carolina needed a win as much as any team in the conference, perhaps save Vanderbilt itself, and the Gamecocks got it.
No, Elliott didn't prove himself to be better than Spurrier, and there's no saying that the Head Ball Coach wouldn't have won this game if he would have hung around. But after three brutal weeks for Gamecocks fans and a disappointing season overall, just being able to avoid the nauseating feeling of a loss is a nice change of pace. It's doubtful that the Era of Good Feelings will continue.
Whether the better team won is open to any number of interpretations. There were seven turnovers total in the game, including five in the space of eight drives at one point. South Carolina ended up with a plus-3 turnover margin, and its nine points off of turnovers was the margin in the game. Vanderbilt had much more luck sustaining drives, going 6-of-15 on third down, compared to South Carolina's 2-of-13 mark, and holding an edge on first downs, 20-17.
At the same time, Gamecock handily outgained the Commodores, 424-332, and did it on 11 fewer plays. The Gamecocks had a far higher average yardage per passing attempt (8.8-3.9), though a slightly lower per-snap average on running plays (4.1-4.4). South Carolina got good nights out of Pharoh Cooper (seven catches, 160 yards) and Brandon Wilds (24 runs, 119 yards), while Darrius Sims (six carries, 104 yards) was the only breakout performer for Vanderbilt.
Ultimately, though, which team was the better team is almost a secondary part of the outcome. One is likely to end the year with just one SEC win and one is likely to end the year without one. Shawn Elliott led South Carolina in making sure that the Gamecocks were the former. Whether he's around next year or not might depend on whether he can keep building on Saturday's victory.