Well, another opening game, another head-scratcher. But not the “win’s a win” rhetoric from years past, but rather a “where was that in the first half?!” inspiring comeback.
It was a tale of two halves. The first two quarters: Uninspired play calling and general sloppiness. What happened to the discipline Will Muschamp preached in the offseason? The last two: Oh, there’s everything he talked about!
With that comeback win, comes many a game ball to dish out? Shall we?
Much-maligned in 2014 and 2015, the Gamecock defensive unit has clearly benefited from the arrival of Will Muschamp and his band of merry defensive-minded assistant coaches.
By no means is Vanderbilt thought to be a offensive juggernaut, but you have to commend the South Carolina D for their strong effort in holding the Dores to 242 yards and 10 points - including an impressive second half shutout.
The Gamecock defense played with a visible high motor and relentless effort. Last season's 105th-ranked rushing defense held a solid VU rushing attack, led by Ralph Webb, to 169 yards - a respectable 4.0 YPC. For reference, the defense surrendered 212 yards on the ground and 5.37 YPC last season.
With the lack of offensive support in the first half, there were clear signs of fatigue along the defensive front. But give them credit, they never got completely gashed - the longest run being just a 13 yarder by Webb.
Again, a tale of two halves. The first two quarters saw the vaunted Kurt Roper passing attack grounded in every sense of the word - no time for the QBs, dropped passes. But after seeing freshman QB Brandon McIlwain behind center for a bit, the Gamecocks fifth-year senior signal caller seemed to have a fire lit under him, finding his groove in the second half.
Orth finished with a ho-hum line (11-19, 152 yards), but his impact was felt far beyond the box score. The former walk-on showed the poise, confidence and moxie that earned him the start in the first place.
Mini game balls to Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel and A.J. Turner for the roles they played in the offense’s second half resurgence.
As I told my GABA cohorts earlier, were it not for Sean Kelly, many of those one-score losses last season would've been a lot worse.
The FAU transfer continued his solid play with seven punts and a 39.9 avg., including three inside the 10 yard line.
In a game where field position was key, Kelly's play kept the Gamecocks in it for much longer than they deserved to be, especially early on. The value of special teams play was very much in display tonight - and Kelly was one of the highlights, but ultimately he played second fiddle to...
Fry starts his darkhorse Heisman candidacy with a boom.
First, #FREISMAN nailed a 48-yarder when his team desperately needed to get on the board. Off the right hash, the setup was less-than-ideal, but the senior kicker drilled it to score the Gamecocks’ first points of the Muschamp era.
Then, The Frisco Kid only knocked a 55 yard FG straight through the uprights to put the Gamecocks ahead for good. Honestly, it probably would’ve been good from 60.
No stranger to pressure (See: Missouri, 2013), Fry continues to showcase his value to the squad. Named to the Lou Groza Award watchlist before the season, Fry is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading scorer. What a way to start his final season in the garnet and black.
Five penalties. A quarterback sack. A muffed punt. Multiple dropped passes. A near safety. Not the best first quarter of football
After hearing about discipline and preparation all offseason, one couldn’t help but be frustrated by the mistakes to start the game. It all seemed eerily similar to Spurrier era openers. (Remember the delay of game penalty to open the season?)
The Commodores had a visible crispness and efficiency in their first half play - creating a contrast that made the Gamecocks’ early miscues even more glaring.
With all the changes in the offseason, the early game jitters were understandable. Really proud of the way the team bounced back, it would’ve been easy to let the first half play set the tone, but they hung tough.
First Half Offense
So remember when A.J. Turner made an offhand remark to the media about not being obsessed with the option read like the old staff? Well, maybe obsessed isn't the right word, but the new staff was at least enamored with it for the first couple of drives.
As referenced above, the offense was beyond stagnant in the first half - totaling just 88 yards at halftime. The missteps combined with penetration by Vanderbilt’s defensive line to give South Carolina little-to-no offensive rhythm the first two quarters.
There was a glimmer of hope when McIlwain entered the game, but the Vandy defense clearly locked in on his running ability - minimizing his effectiveness.
Alas, the coaching staff and players were able to right the ship and make some outstanding adjustments at halftime, giving way to a 221-yard offensive performance in the second half.