Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: South Carolina almost let a win get away from it, but did just enough to clamp down on Vanderbilt late and give the homecoming crowd something to celebrate with a 34-27 win in Columbia.
The Gamecocks initially looked like they were still on their bye week, as the Commodores marched right down the field on the game’s first possession to score a touchdown. South Carolina struck back a few minutes later on a 19-yard keeper by quarterback Jake Bentley, who notched the first rushing touchdown of his career. The Gamecocks then took the lead with an A.J. Turner touchdown, but Vanderbilt came right back to score and looked to tie the game — except D.J. Wonnum, who’s been a revelation for South Carolina this year, blocked the point-after attempt. The Gamecocks added a 36-yard Shi Smith touchdown reception and a 44-yard Parker White field goal to close the first half with a 24-13 advantage.
Both teams dug in for the second half. After White missed a 47-yard field goal for the Gamecocks, the teams traded touchdowns again in the third quarter. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur burned the Gamecocks deep with a 47-yard pass, but Bentley tallied his second rushing score of the game on an 11-yard designed run. White rebounded to make a 37-yarder that gave South Carolina a little more breathing room at 34-20, but Vanderbilt refused to quit. The Commodores scored a touchdown with 4 minutes, 50 seconds left in the game, then got the ball back for one last shot after the Gamecocks quickly went three and out. The South Carolina defense held, forcing the Commodores to turn it over on downs and effectively end the game.
A.J. Turner became the first Gamecock running back to go over 100 yards this season, notching 121 and a touchdown in an encouraging performance in the first game without injured starter Rico Dowdle. Bentley was 19-of-29 passing for a modest 174 yards and a touchdown, but he ran for 47, which was an interesting wrinkle we haven’t seen in the offense until this point. Steven Montac’s interception highlighted what was otherwise an up-and-down performance from the defense.
In all, it was an ugly win marred by some sloppy play and very involved officiating, but the Gamecocks are bowl eligible and still alive in the SEC East’s championship picture. They are also assured of not having a losing SEC record for the first time since 2013, which is a great mark for coach Will Muschamp to reach in just his second season. The Gamecocks got a victory they needed, and have now beaten Vanderbilt for the eighth consecutive year.