Our Digital Season Week 1: South Carolina v. Vanderbilt

We're running a full simulation of the 2012 college football season on EA Sports NCAA College Football 2013. How will our digital season compare to the real thing? Follow along all season and find out!

These posts are fairly comprehensive. I have added various levels of bolding/sizing to allow for quick scans if you'd rather not read the full rundown. Crack a beer, settle in, and read on.

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Game 1: South Carolina at Vanderbilt

The phrase "video game numbers" presently rivals "swagger" as the most played-out line on sports broadcasts. I cringe at the latter (especially when it's Erin Andrews saying it), but I think the former is effective when used sparingly and in the right context. It conjures visions of a hulking character firing flameballs and executing thirty foot bounds on his way to the endzone, where he will respond to an omniscient "FINISH HIM" roar by impaling the opposing coach with a yard marker, all to the strains of the Guile theme.

But if Game 1 of Our Digital Season taught me anything, it's that "video game numbers" is a phrase that goes two ways. I'll get to that. A few other preconceptions were dashed in the ODS opener. First, there's not much in the way of gritty realism. It got silly, y'all. In fact, I initially harbored the concern that it might get boring. I mean, 60 minutes of digital football I'm not even playing? Yeah, that wasn't an issue either.

In Week 1 of Our Digital Season, the #11* Gamecocks travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Gamecocks win the toss and defer. The kickoff is returned to the USC 28.

*EA's ranking.

FIRST QUARTER, or, CONNOR SHAW LOBS SHAW BOMBS

Ah, the first drive of the college football season. A months-lingering itch, scratched in one sloppy batch of conservative plays and maybe an errant stab downfield that takes out a pyramid of cheerleaders. But hey, it's football! Watch the rabid student section, hear the fight songs, smell the grass...or, in this case, smell the Doritos Locos Big Box and Mountain Dew you snagged on the way home from work. Gamer fuel! /barfs

Anyway, we're off and running. Just a reminder: I'm allowing injury-plauged CB Akeem Auguste to play out of pity. Plus, if I'm benching every injured player on our team, I'd have to go through all team rosters and bench every injured player in the NCAA. Instead, I'll give everyone a preseason pass and let in-season injuries play out as they will. Besides, you probably won't even notice Akeem's out there. Or, he could intercept the third pass of the game, which he did. Oh well! The resulting Gamecocks drive stalled out at the 24. Adam Yates drills it from 31 yards. 3-0 Gamecocks.

Vandy goes three and out on the ensuing drive. Connor Shaw jogs back on the field and coolly nails DeAngelo Smith on a go route for a 64 yard TD bomb. Shades of Bruce Ellington vs. Clemson last year! It's not like DigiSpurrier scrapped that one from the playbook, after all. 10-0 Gamecocks.

Vandy with another three and out, and the home crowd grows restless. DigiJames Franklin paces the sideline. The Cocks first play on the ensuing drive is a WR sweep to Deangelo Williams, resulting in a backfield massacre. I'll go ahead and tell you: this happens a lot. Both jet sweeps and wildcat plays are born to fail on this game, yet our coaches call them en masse. It's third and 10, and Connor Shaw lobs a ball into a cloud of 6 Vandy DBs and DL Moore. So, of course, Moore snags it and takes it 65 yards to the house. Wait, what?

17-0 Gamecocks. We're just under ten minutes in, and it's getting ugly. Connor's on pace for, like, 10,000 yards and 60 touchdowns.

Vandy needed a spark, and it came in the form of a 23-yard Zac Stacy run, made possible by Doo Doo Clowney getting his ass pancaked on the stadium turf. (EA Developers are working 'round the clock to fix whatever egregious glitch would allow for such a lapse in realism.) Stacy continues to shred the D, and Jordan Rodgers is heating up, too. He hits his fellow Jordan (Matthews) in the back of the endzone for six, and the Dores are on the board. 17-7 Gamecocks.

Connor Shaw's making things happen with his feet, but he's taking some huge hits. "He needs to learn to slide," says the cliche-spouting commentator that lives in my head. The drive stalls, and the teams spend the remainder of the quarter trading off punts. After one, it's 17-7 Gamecocks.

SECOND QUARTER, or, WELL THAT DIDN'T GO WELL

17-0 this early isn't necessarily a comfortable lead--ask ECU. DigiSpurrier is reminding his players of what happened to the Pirates in last year's opener. (DigiSpurrier speaks with the voice from Radiohead's "Fitter/Happier", by the way. The phrases "but anyway" and "so forth" have never sounded so cold and dystopian.)

While the teams trade punts, Reese Davis cuts in to tell me LSU's only up 7 on North Texas in the 2nd. UPSET ALERT! Back in Nashville, a brash Connor Shaw still refuses to slide. He then refuses to throw it to the right team, serving up a silver platter pick to LB Chase Garnham. DigiSpurrier launches his headset as Vanderbilt Stadium goes berserk. Can the Dores make something of the turnover? Negative: Vandy fails to convert on its second 4th-down attempt of the drive, and the Cocks get it back.

Marcus Lattimore has thus far been ineffective. Nay; abysmal. He's got six yards on seven carries halfway through the second quarter. Our O-linemen may as well be a phalanx of Walmart greeters--surly, passive, and wholly unintimidating.

So many drives. So many punts. Tyler Hull is earning his keep, doing his best to pin Vandy deep. But they're winning the tug of war, edging further into Carolina territory with each possession. Finally, Vandy is able to stall out in field goal range. Up and through. 17-10 Gamecocks.

The next play from scrimmage for the Gamecocks is a botched option that results in a nine yard loss for Marcus Lattimore, who's now in the negative. Shaw is sacked on third down, and Tyler Hull will punt form the endzone. Vandy's got excellent field position, but the SC defense steps up on back-to-back plays: Sacked by Clowney! Picked by Swearinger! Unfortunately for the Cocks, it's at this moment when the specter of Stephen Garcia unicycles on down from space and assumes control of Connor Shaw's consciousness, causing him to cough up the rock. The Dores get it back and run the one minute drill to perfection: Rodgers again connects with Matthews in the back of the endzone as the clock expires. 17-17. Vanderbilt has scored 17 unanswered points.

1st Half Stats:
Shaw: 10-16, 168 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 12 rushes, 66 yds, 1 FMB
Lattimore: 8 rushes, -3 yds (Yikes.)
D. Smith: 3 rec, 75 yds, 1 TD
Jeffery: 14 tackles, 4 TFL (huge first half for Damario, who also recovered an Ace Sanders fumble on a punt return.)

THIRD QUARTER, or, CONNOR SHAW AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD QUARTER

Victor Hampton takes the opening kickoff from the back of the endzone and gets flattened at the 18 yard line. DigiSpurrier is apoplectic. (He ain't seen nothin' yet.) Shaw connects with Ace Sanders for 37 yards on the next play, but Brahsome's Ghost dies hard, bros. Shaw gets clocked and the ball is loose. Andre Hal scoops up the fumble and takes it to the house. 24-17 Vanderbilt.

We're unable to capitalize after another 40+ yard completion to DeAngelo Smith. Punt. Lucky for us, The BROltergeist plays no favorites. Rodgers fumbles, and Big Bad Byron Jerideau falls on it. On the first play of the next drive, Lattimore breaks off a huge run! AJ Cann, however, is called for holding on a PRETTY LATE FLAG, REF. Oh hey, Michigan's up 3 on Bama in the 2nd. ANOTHER UPSET IN THE MAKING? Back in Nashville, Shaw connects with Shaq Roland (!) for a big gain, and he's dragged down just short of the endzone. Three futile player later, it's 4th and goal, and Carolina is a mere six inches from the endzone. Here comes the offense! False start! There goes the offense! Yates' second field goal is good. 24-20, Vanderbilt still leads.

Vandy goes 3 and out, and suddenly Carolina has captured some momentum. So, why not run a jet sweep with...Justice Cunningham? I don't even. Two plays later, Brahsome strikes again. Connor Shaw watches helplessly from the turf as his third fumble of the evening is returned for a touchdown. 31-20 Vanderbilt, with four minutes left in the third. Since Carolina's quick start, Vandy has outscored them 31-3.

Flash ahead to the waning minutes of the quarter. Connor Shaw, who despite his struggles has racked up a robust 350 yards through the air, fumbles for the fourth time. DigiSpurrier gets a text message from an unkown Canadian number reading, "MISS ME BRO?" Thankfully, it's recovered by the offense. We manage a field goal, our second of the quarter. 31-23, Vandy, after three. South Carolina has not scored a touchdown since the first quarter.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's about to get weird.

FOURTH QUARTER, or, HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS

The Dores punt (there have now been 34 drives, by the way) and the Cocks have stellar field position at the Vandy 48. Lattimore is dragged down behind the line for, what, the 40th time? It's 3rd and 10, and Shaw floats a wobbler along a corner route to DL Moore, who makes the catch of the day, using every inch of his lanky frame to haul it in for 27 yards. A few plays later, Shaw rewards DL Moore's earlier effort with a touchdown on a textbook slant.

Down two, the Cocks will go for the tie. Shaw takes the snap from under center, then springs forward--it's good! The game is tied, 31-31.

(Reese Davis informs me that LSU is now comfortably ahead of North Texas. Bama has taken the lead on Michigan in the third, and Clemson has handled Auburn. So much for upsets.)

The teams exchange punts, and Vandy has it back. Then, as if to balance out his earlier heroics, Akeem Auguste put together a forgettable two play stretch when he 1.) drops a pick and 2.) is scorched by his mark, allowing a 70-yard touchdown strike. Vandy again leads, 38-31. The graphic detail on DigiSpurrier's pulsing jugular is stunning.

The ensuing drive starts with back-to-back halfback draws to Latty, which amount to a total of one (1) yard. But on 3rd and 9, Shaw again connects with DeAngelo Smith, this time for a 73 yard TD. He's now thrown for 475 yards and set the school single-game passing record. Tie game, 38-38.

On the next play from scrimmage, Jordan Rodgers tries to answer with a bomb of his own, but true freshman Chaz Elder comes down with it! DigiLattimore then runs for consecutive gains...holy schnikeys! He's now got 20 yards on 20 attempts (remember when I said "video game numbers" goes both ways?) No matter; the Cocks are threatening, but fail to convert on a 3rd and short in the red zone. Adam Yates comes out and delivers another upright-splitter. He's now 4-4 on the evening. 41-38 Gamecocks, under 5:00 to go.

On the ensuing drive, Zac Stacy rips off a 33 yard run on third and long. It's a crushing blow to an already gassed D, and on the following play, Rodgers connects with Chris Boyd TD pass on a blown coverage. Another lead change. Another momentum swing. This game is downright bipolar. Vandy is back on top, 45-41, with just over 3:00 remaining.

A disastrous drive (more botched jet sweeps, anyone?) and we're punting from our own endzone. Which button switches over to the Bama game? Vandy's got the lead and the ball in Carolina territory with 2:15 remaining. A first down will effectively end the game.

Vandy runs it thrice--warranting all three Carolina timeouts--but the defense holds, and it's fourth down. Vandy will punt it, and it bounces into the end zone for a touchback. With just a shade under 2 minutes left, Carolina starts from their own 20. A pair of minimal gains make it third and five. Connor Shaw needs a miracle. He takes the snap, drops back, and fires a bullet on a slant-and-go, connecting with apparent Belitnikoff shoo-in DeAngelo Smith, who streaks downfield and into the endzone. 48-45, Gamecocks lead with 1:26 remaining. Have the Cocks left the Dores too much time?

Vanderbilt has three timeouts, but at the rate they're moving, they won't need them. The chains are moving, ball-carriers are ducking out of bounds to kill the clock, and Vandy's in Carolina territory. The defense is laboring. This has touchdown drive written all over it, people. But as the game clock slips under a minute, the Dores start playing for overtime. Vandy fans are incredulous, but the approach is unmistakable. A few dink-and-dunk plays later, Vanderbilt sets up for the field goal. The kick is up...and, as time expires, it's true. We go to overtime at 48-48. For those keeping score at home, that's 42 total points in the fourth quarter.

OVERTIME, or, HOLY LORD WHAT IF THIS ALL ACTUALLY HAPPENED

The Gamecocks win their second coin toss of the night and, of course, defer. Vanderbilt decides to get cute, going Wildcat on 1st and 2nd down...and taking losses on both (who's calling these plays, Vandy?) Rodgers' pass on 3rd down is nearly picked by Swearinger, and the Dores have to attempt a 45 yard field goal.

It sneaks in. 51-48, Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks are now confronted with a simple situation: score six and win.

First down. It's a draw to Lattimore, who gains seven yards, thus increasing his yardage total by 25%. Lattimore again, and he scrapes for five more and a fresh set of downs. DigiLatty has come alive, rumbling for nine more on a weakside handoff. It's 2nd and inches. Shaw quick-fires to Byrd in the flat; Damiere snatches it and lunges forward for the first down. It's now 1st and goal on the two yard line, and it's all the separates the Gamecocks from a W.

Oh God, no. Not the Wildcat. Why now? Just pound it up the middle! Or hit someone on a corner fade! Anything but the–

Kenny Miles takes the direct snap and follows his blockers, untouched, into the endzone.

Game over. Carolina wins, 54-51. Welcome to Our Digital Season.

PLAYER STATS OF NOTE:

C. Shaw: 31-50, 562 yards (school record), 5 TD, 1 INT, 22 rushes, 80 yards
M. Lattimore: 24 rushes, 48 yards, 2.0 ypc,
D. Smith: 11 receptions, 310 yards (school record), 3 TD, Player of the Game
D. Jeffery: 20 tackles, 9 solo, 6 TFL

INJURIES: None.

WEEKLY HONORS: Deangelo Smith wins SEC and NCAA Offensive Player of the Week.

NEXT WEEK'S OPPONENT:

Carolina opens up at home against East Carolina, who took care of the vaunted FCS EAST Rhinos (App State, in real life) in week one, 24-7. East Carolina enters week 2 unranked.

AROUND THE DigiNCAA:

SCORES OF NOTE:

Tennessee 32 - NC State 31
LSU 28 - North Texas 0
Clemson 31 - Auburn 21
Alabama 38 - Michigan 19

DigiNCAA INJURIES OF NOTE:

Alabama loses E. Lacy for 7 weeks with a foot injury. Kansas State's star QB C. Klein is done for the season with a ruptured disk. Michigan's D. Robinson will miss 2 weeks with a torn pectoral (a very minor one, apparently.) Notre Dame quarterback EG5 out for 8 weeks with a foot fracture. UAB starting quarterback J. Perry out for 3 weeks with a sprained elbow, will miss game at Carolina. Clemson quarterback T. Boyd misses most of Auburn game, but will be back for week 2.

Conclusion, Week 1

So, yeah, I'm probably going to shorten the quarters by about 25% so we don't see such a hyperbolic displays on a weekly basis. (I will also go ahead and remove newly-departed Sheldon Royster and am inserting Ellington as QB in Wildcat packages, which I just figured out how to do.) But inflated stats aside, you can't automate this sort of drama. Seven lead changes. Nine turnovers combined, including two defensive touchdowns. Leads of 17 and 11 points, squandered. Overtime, for Pete's sake!

The result is an ugly win for Carolina, another heartbreaker for Vandy, and a boatload of questions. Will Connor Shaw last long taking these kinds of hits? Will Marcus Lattimore rebound from such a poor performance? Is DeAngelo Smith taking horse steroids? Whatever the case, Our Digital Season could be a long one if we don't cover up what would seem to be a kickline's worth of Achilles heels.

Our Actual Season takes wing on Thursday. Hopefully the result is the same. Just, you know, without all the drama.
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