Will Muschamp began his tenure in Columbia by leading his South Carolina Gamecocks into Nashville and beating Derek Mason's Vanderbilt Commodores. The expectations in the weeks leading into the game were that Vanderbilt's defense would be ahead of their own offense, as well every unit belong to the Gamecocks.
This almost proved to be prophetic, but second half adjustments made by South Carolina's offense were enough to steal a win on the road, and provide a positive start to the new dawn of the Muschamp Era.
The first half was largely listless football - the lone bright spot being Vandy's defense largely shutting down South Carolina. The Gamecocks only managed 88 yards in the first half, but they certainly fired enough rounds into their own cleats to slightly dampen the hype of the Commodores defense. The self-infliction included: two turnovers, several dropped passes, and, at last count, six penalties in the first 30 minutes.
At the beginning of the second quarter, in an effort to jump-start the offense, starting redshirt senior quarterback Perry Orth was benched in favor of true freshman Brandon McIlwain. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper did McIlwain several favors calling a bevy of screens along with quarterback draws and zone reads out of Shotgun which eventually resulted in the first offensive momentum of the night for South Carolina.
Soon after, McIlwain performed how freshman tend to perform over time, and fumbled the ball within the red zone bringing a disappointing end to a hopeful drive. McIlwain didn't see another snap; however, the long drive had the consequence of granting South Carolina's defense time to recover, unlike the first quarter, and would eventually lead to six straight 3-and-outs extending into late in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt didn't muster much more production, but still managed a 10-0 lead at halftime partly based on Gamecock turnovers. The Commodores finished the first half with 109 total yards, and a sizable portion of that came on 45 rushing yards from stud running back Ralph Webb on 12 carries. Vanderbilt seemed content to feed Webb the ball, and were largely able to move the chains doing just that.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur only managed a meager 5-for-8 passing for 26 yards, and the leading receiver was CJ Duncan with one catch for 16 yards. Vanderbilt did not look capable of reliably completing a deep pass, and yet they held the lead thanks to their stout defense and Webb's efforts.
The second half almost immediately suggested South Carolina had shaken off the rust. The improvement culminated in scoring 10 unanswered points to tie the game after a nine play drive at the 7:30 mark of the fourth quarter.
Perry Orth started the second half, and in a reversal from the first half, was slinging darts on consecutive drives after his short benching. Complimenting his performance was redshirt freshman running back AJ Turner who rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries. Kurt Roper looked to have made good second half adjustments but was helped by the sudden lack of offensive penalties, and receivers catching balls led by freshman Bryant Edwards and his eight catches for 101 yards. It's amazing how much better an offense looks when the players execute.
Finally, it would be kicker Elliot Fry making the game winning 55-yard field goal with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter that would give South Carolina the 13-10 lead and the win. South Carolina would finish with 308 total yards after only managing a meager 88 yards in the first half.
The story of the game for the Commodore faithful may be that Vandy's offense didn't make similar strides in the second half. Webb would finish with 97 yards on 20 carries (including three receptions for another 28 yards), and while Shurmur showed a tendency to stand tall in the pocket despite oncoming pressure, he would only finish the game 8-for-22 with 73 yards passing. The play-action wasn't there tonight on deep balls, and that may have as much to do with South Carolina's discipline as Vandy's lack of play-makers on the perimeter.
Opening games typically serve as Rorschach tests. Positives can be drawn for both teams, but so can long-term concerns. South Carolina may have a decent offense this season- mostly thanks to young talent like Turner and Edwards - but a season-long grind may expose depth issues at the skill positions.
For Vanderbilt, the defense may not be imposing enough to make up for an offense that has an over-reliance on Webb, a back that had 489 career carries heading into 2016 (good for third in the SEC the each of the last two seasons), and one wonders how long can he maintain that workload. The question for Vanderbilt going forward is how to diversify their offense in order to support their defense.