Anyone who didn't watch the Gamecocks' 35-25 victory over the Commodores and is trying to reverse engineer the story of the game based on the box score is going to be very confused by what they see. South Carolina dominated every statistical category but only came away with a nerve-wracking ten point win.
Despite besting Vandy in total yards (579 to 268), time of possession (37:10 to 21:55), and first downs (31 to 14), a remarkably awful showing by the special teams unit allowed the Commodores to storm back from a 28-0 deficit to make this one more interesting than it ought to have been. The Gamecocks fumbled a kickoff return and a punt return and had another bounce off of TJ Gurley's leg and into the arms of a Vanderbilt gunner. And Tyler Hull punted a pair of balls that went for just 19 and 29 yards.
The Gamecock defense looked good for most of the game in holding Vanderbilt to 4.8 yards per play but proved frustratingly incapable of doing anything to stop Wesley Tate in the Commodores' Wildcat package. But it's hard to be too upset (although many Gamecock fans on Twitter are finding a way) about South Carolina's defensive performance, considering that the ineptitude of the special teams unit (and a Dylan Thompson interception) gave the Commodores incredibly short fields all night long. Vanderbilt only had to travel 49 yards, 19 yards, and 1 yard, respectively, on their three touchdown drives.
The Gamecocks have had glaring weaknesses in at least one component of the special teams unit ever since Steve Spurrier came to Columbia in 2005 (and basically every year before that, too), and Ace Sanders' early departure to the NFL appears to have left South Carolina without a single punt or kick returner capable of doing anything with the football that isn't terrible. Shon Carson doesn't appear to have the vision or patience to find lanes in the return game and goes down on first contact every single time. Victor Hampton can make some things happen with the ball in his hands, but takes too many unnecessary risks and is too valuable as a cornerback to risk losing him to injury.
On the offensive side of the ball, Connor Shaw had his second consecutive eye-popping statistical performance (Passing: 21/29, 284 yards, 3 TDs; Rushing: 19 runs for 84 yards) and, in conjunction with the Thompson INT, did a lot to separate himself as the clear #1 at quarterback. There were a few throws and reads here and there that Shaw could have executed better, but any criticism of his performance would be some serious nit-picking.
Really, the only thing to be concerned about here is the special teams unit, which still leaves us with a lot to be concerned about. If that can get addressed during the two weeks between now and the UCF game, this could be a very good team. But if this issue lingers, it's going to cost us a game somewhere on the schedule.
- Clowney got a sack and a forced fumble when Vanderbilt was deep in South Carolina's territory. Prior to that sack of Carta-Samuels, Clowney's impact on the games this season had mostly been indirect.
- Coming in to the game, the biggest concern was Jordan Matthews' big play ability in the open field. Matthews caught 8 passes for 106 yards but was held to a long of 29.
- After having 2 just two catches through the first 2 games of the season, Bruce Ellington had one of the most productive games of his career, racking up 111 yards and a touchdown on 8 catches.
- As the commentary crew pointed out, there were a lot of parallels between this game and the Georgia game during the last eight minutes of the game. Vanderbilt turned the ball over on South Carolina's one yard line down two scores, and the Gamecocks were able to (very nearly) run out the remainder of the game clock.
- Mike Davis failed to rip off a 75-yard run for a third consecutive game, so it's probably time to start wondering what's wrong with #28.
- Brandon Wilds' 33 yard touchdown catch looked eerily similar to a Marcus Lattimore TD grab against Vanderbilt in 2011: