Much like the Tennessee game, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be writing this article for quite a bit. The difference was this time around, I needed 59 minutes to be convinced instead of just over a half.
South Carolina was one drive away from its worst loss since 2015 (The Citadel) and cementing a spot as the worst team in the SEC, and then the Gamecocks made the decision to bring quarterback Zeb Noland into the game during the team’s final drive, one they should have made much earlier in the game.
Similar to what happened versus Troy, the defense had to bail out the offense on numerous occasions by forcing turnovers or getting stops, but this time USC couldn’t just ride the defense’s coattails to a victory; they had to truly earn it.
When a team turns the ball over four times and racks up 78 penalty yards, it has to beat the other team and itself, which is very difficult to accomplish a good portion of the time.
This isn’t to say I was fully impressed with the defense’s performance either.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the run defense’s improvement (not including quarterback containment), but it seems that when the Gamecocks improve in one area, they take a step back in another.
The secondary was atrocious, giving up the big play with ease — including a 52-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Mike Wright to Will Sheppard — and allowing Vanderbilt’s first play longer than 40 yards all year.
Speaking of Wright, when the big play wasn’t an option, Vanderbilt’s game plan was basically “let Wright bail us out on third down to extend the chains,” and the Gamecock defense seemingly couldn’t pick up on that for a while.
And then there was Luke Doty.
He may be electric with his feet, he may be a great teammate and he may be the future, but I think enough time has passed for us to know that he is not the present.
You can blame the offensive line for not blessing him with an ideal path to success, but the truth is whether he is draped in defensive linemen or has no one around him, he is unable to pass the football with the accuracy that is required for SEC football.
There have been too many instances where I would yell at my TV after he overthrows a surefire touchdown — usually to Vann — or somehow turns a bread and butter completion opportunity into an uncatchable ball or a pass behind the receiver.
Most importantly, I can say with confidence that if he was the team’s quarterback on that last drive, this article wouldn’t exist.
In all, there are many aching pains that need to get sorted out on both sides of the ball, and this was not a feel-good victory that many were claiming this to be.
Anyway, rant over. Let’s get to the game balls.
Offensive Game Ball: Zeb Noland
I’m expecting some people to give me pushback here with this decision when a player like White or Bell may be equally or more deserving of the game ball, but Noland was the MVP here.
The Gamecocks would not have won this game if it were not for Noland completing five of eight passes for 75 yards, including the game-winning touchdown to Legette.
You can say whatever you want to say about Vanderbilt choosing to play prevent defense and only rushing three linemen, but he got the job done when his number was called and the QB1 was struggling.
The jury is still out on his ability to throw under pressure, but he continues to prove that he is the superior passer of the football to Doty and the guy that should likely take over the starting gig at least for the time being.
Put some respect on the former graduate assistant’s name.
Defensive Game Ball: Zaach Pickens
Kind of like how I said the Gamecocks wouldn’t have won without Noland, the same applies to Pickens albeit in a far less pressure-heavy situation.
When Vanderbilt was driving late in the first quarter in a 14-3 ball game, they went for it on 4th and goal at the South Carolina four yard line.
The man that prevented the score and picked up the big tackle was Pickens, stuffing Rocko Griffin well before the goal line.
Other than that, he also led the team in tackles, picked up a sack and had two quarterback hurries.
Pickens made a huge impact on the field last Saturday, and this was, frankly, an easy decision for me to make.
Honorable Mentions: ZaQuandre White and Jaheim Bell
I’ll take “Players that have been used far less than they should have been through six weeks,” Alex!
Starting with White, it has hurt watching him ride the bench for this long after seeing him look so special during the first three games of the season. I guess Juju sitting opened up the door for him once again, and I’m glad we got to see it.
White was probably the most effective back on the day, racking up 65 rushing yards on 12 carries while also having some success in the passing game. Harris didn’t have a carry in the second half, and it was probably for good reason because White stole the show with his explosiveness and his ability to turn simple screen passes into first downs, for example.
As for Bell, we have known he is a dynamic weapon for a bit, but he has struggled to get involved until this week.
He probably had the play of the game, taking a long pass from Doty 82 yards to the house in the first quarter.
Beyond that beautiful display, Bell had a day picking up six receptions for 136 yards. Yes, he had a bad fumble on a 28-yard gain, but I would like to think the good outweighed the bad with him.
It would hurt to see either of these guys take a seat in the future.
Let’s hope for a semi-competitive game at Texas A&M this week!