It took a little time for them to warm up, but the South Carolina Gamecocks got going and got right against the Vanderbilt Commodores, earning their first win of the season 41-7 on a rainy, and at times sloppy, Saturday in Nashville.
As mentioned, though, it was a slow start for South Carolina, despite Vanderbilt carrying only 56 scholarship players due to injuries and COVID quarantines. The Gamecocks’ two-game streak of scoring on their opening possession came to an end when a pass-focused drive resulted in a couple drops, a sack, and a quick punt. The South Carolina defense was all over the Commodores, though, forcing a three-and-out of their own and a Ken Seals fumble (although Vandy recovered).
South Carolina remembered it has Kevin Harris, and he did the heavy-lifting on the Gamecocks’ following possession with some strong running to move the chains. Unfortunately, Collin Hill took another drive-killing sack, forcing USC to settle for a 42-yard Parker White field goal to make it 3-0.
Vanderbilt got right back to work, driving quickly down the field with a mix of runs and a couple chunk pass plays to knock on the door. A Jaycee Horn pass breakup in the end zone forced the ‘Dores to settle for a field goal of their own — which, thankfully for the Gamecocks, was just wide right.
A 21-yard grab by Xavier Legette on third down opened the second quarter for South Carolina, followed by a big gain on the ground from Deshaun Fenwick. But the pocket collapsed yet again on another third down, and White pulled a 54-yard field goal attempt wide left.
The trouble continued for South Carolina on Vanderbilt’s next possession, as Horn exited the game with a knee injury and Seals found more success against the Gamecocks’ secondary for another quick trip to the red zone. But the South Carolina defense, led by Ernest Jones, pulled off a fourth-down, goal-line stand to keep the Commodores off the board.
A 32-yard bomb to Nick Muse got the Gamecocks’ next drive off to a good start, and after a couple more catches from Muse and runs by Harris, Shi Smith finally got his first reception with a big gain off a shovel pass to get USC to the 15-yard line. After Harris was stonewalled a few times at the goal line, a Hill keeper on fourth and inches netted the Gamecocks a 10-0 lead just before halftime.
Vanderbilt opened the third quarter with a three-and-out and failed fake punt attempt, which couldn’t have gone any better for South Carolina. With excellent field position, the Gamecocks made the ‘Dores pay with a 25-yard Harris touchdown run. But Vandy struck right back with a 9-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 22-yard Cam Johnson reception to make it 17-7.
Muse, in his best performance yet in a Carolina uniform, bailed out the Gamecocks once again on a critical third down on their next possession, grabbing a 29-yard pass to move the chains. Another Smith reception set up South Carolina on the Vanderbilt 10, and Luke Doty made a brief appearance at quarterback to hand off to Harris. But it was Hill who collected his second rushing score of the day, showing off some rare mobility to push the Gamecocks ahead 24-7.
After a quick Commodore three-and-out and a favorable Gamecock bounce on the punt, South Carolina’s drive threatened to stall until an obvious Vanderbilt pass interference on Smith on fourth and short. Unfortunately, a couple drops by Harris on attempted screens aborted the drive anyway, and a delay of game backed up White’s field goal attempt to 40 yards. Fortunately, he sent it through the uprights anyway to post the Gamecocks to a 27-7 advantage.
After another quick Vandy three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, Harris took off on the very first play of USC’s next drive for an untouched, 88-yard touchdown run, putting South Carolina up 34-7 and pushing Harris’ rushing total to 171 yards on the day. Not to be left out of the fun, Dakereon Joyner entered the game on USC’s next drive and took a reverse 47 yards to the house, with Hill jogging along looking for some downhill blocks.
On South Carolina’s next possession, Ryan Hilinski took over at quarterback to see his first action in 2020, with Doty in the game as well. Things got sloppy, though, with some fighting between linemen and a delay of game penalty that ensured the drive went nowhere. The next Vanderbilt drive went nowhere, too, though, when it ended with a Cam Smith interception — a nice bit of redemption for him.
ZaQuandre White, entering at tailback, fumbled on South Carolina’s next possession, but the Commodores fumbled it right back, with Jordan Burch recovering. It was a sloppy ending, owing to bad and worsening weather conditions, but you can’t argue with the results.
South Carolina put up 479 yards of total offense, with Harris (21 carries, 171 yards) and Muse (five catches, 85 yards) standing out. Smith was uncharacteristically quiet, but it was a good sign to see the offense so productive with him not factoring in as much. For his part, Hill didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but was an efficient 13-of-19 for 178 yards, two rushing scores, and no turnovers.
The Gamecocks improve to 1-2 and will host No. 13 Auburn next week.