The South Carolina Gamecocks used a second half comeback to win on the road in conference play. After starting out slow and trailing 10-0 at the half, QB Perry Orth led the Gamecocks to three 2nd half scoring drives. The last set up Kicker Elliot Fry to boot a 55 yard field goal for the win.
The Gamecocks did not start well at all. Multiple drops and penalties on offense, combined with a special teams turnover put the defense under pressure. The defense struggled to tackle in the first half. Vanderbilt RBs Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame were breaking tackles early and often. The defense seemed to be going for the big hit, making contact at the line but failing to wrap up. It allowed Webb and Blasingame to fall forward for extra yards on almost every run. They were also not helped out at all by the offense. The defense held strong after the muffed punt, limiting Vanderbilt to a field goal. Blasingame would later cap off a long drive with a short touchdown at the start of the second quarter to make it 10-0. The defense would be helped out a little when freshman Brandon McIlwain entered at QB. McIlwain flipped the field position, driving into Vanderbilt territory twice before a punt on the first drive and then a fumble on the second. Though it didn’t lead to points, it gave the defense a much needed breather.
After the Gamecocks went down 10-0, the game was close to getting out of hand. QB Brandon McIlwain was subbed in, and he was able to move the ball into Commodore territory. After stalling out, Sean Kelly was able to pin Vanderbilt at the seven yard-line. He would later to the same, pinning the ‘Dores on the seven again two drives later. Though no points were scored, the punts were major for the Gamecocks. Backed up in their own territory, the Commodores opted for conservative play-calling, allowing the defense to force stops and keep the deficit at 10 points. Most of the second quarter was played on the Vanderbilt side of the field. It allowed the defense to grow into the game, but the offense failed to take advantage with no points before the half.
Playmakers stepping up in the second half
After being shut out in the first half, the Gamecocks turned back to Perry Orth to lead the offense again. Brandon McIlwain couldn’t do much through the air during his quarter of play. He showed flashes on the ground, but also fumbled on the Gamecocks best chance to score before the half. The decision to bring Orth back in would pay off. On the second drive of the third, Orth was able to hit WR Deebo Samuel for a thirty yard gain. The completion set up kicker Elliott Fry for his first field goal to get the Gamecocks on the board. In the second half, Orth quickly began to get the ball to freshman WR Bryan Edwards more often. Edwards had a huge game, racking up 101 yards on eight catches. Redshirt freshman RB AJ Turner was the other playmaker on offense. Turner touched the ball sixteen times in all, totaling 97 yards. Multiple big runs, including one after the catch, helped set up the Gamecocks in the redzone. A perfect execution of the WR reverse saw Deebo Samuel race to the pylon to tie the game at 10. Edwards and Turner would later each have a big gain to set up Fry for the game-winning field goal.
After Samuel’s touchdown, each team would have a chance to win the game with their kickers. Vanderbilt drove down into Gamecock territory to set up Tommy Openshaw for a forty-five yard field goal with 3:44 remaining. Openshaw hooked it left, opening the door for the Gamecocks to win the game. Big plays by Edwards and Turner set up Fry for the game winner. The soon to be all-time leading scorer nailed the 55 yard field goal to send the Gamecocks to 1-0.
A great thing to see was the amount of Gamecock fans in Nashville. It looked more like a neutral site game than a road game. The game itself was not pretty. With many questions remaining unanswered, it’s much better to look for answers at 1-0 than 0-1. It’s hard to get a gauge on the defense. The run defense was physical but failed to wrap up often, giving up 165 yards to Webb and Blasingame on 35 touches. The pass defense played well, only allowing 73 yards through the air, but it was also aided by terrible play by Vanderbilt. The best thing to take away from the game was the Gamecocks’ effort in the second half to come from behind and win on the road. They’ll need that same effort again next week in Starkville with Mississippi State looking to bounce back after blowing a 17-0 lead in a home defeat to South Alabama.