Gutsy Shaw, Healthy Lattimore Help Cocks Squeak Past Dores

Connor Shaw went into a different sort of BEAST MODE tonight.

Well. That was a lot more stressful than I had expected.

No. 9 South Carolina defeated Vanderbilt 17-13 tonight in Nashville, but USC was lucky to come away with the victory, and had Vandy not failed to capitalize on scoring chances, this recap would be a whole lot more negative. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win, and we’ll take those any way we can get them.

Marcus Lattimore fumbled on Carolina’s first play of the game, giving Vandy the ball. Connor Shaw was intercepted on the next possession, and the Commodores looked to be in business. Luckily for us, they couldn’t find the end zone and those early mistakes were basically irrelevant. Then Shaq Wilson nabbed a pick of his own, catching a pass from birthday boy Jordan Rodgers. That put the Cocks in a solid position for the first time in the game, and after Shaw ran for 20 yards, Lattimore went 29 yards to take it to the house and put Carolina on the board.

The Gamecocks again got into the red zone on their first possession of the second quarter, but ending up going for – and making – a field goal, which put them up 10-0. Things were looking up and the nerves seemed to have vanished. And then things got bad.

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews took the ball 78 yards to the end zone, cutting the lead to 10-7. Their next possession tied the game. Then things really got bad.

With about five minutes of the quarter (and the half) remaining, Shaw ran for a gain of two yards, then came up off the ground looking like he was in extreme pain. He was wincing and grimacing and generally looking miserable on the sidelines, necessitating the entrance of Dylan Thompson. Unfortunately, Thompson was unremarkable in his season debut. He had only one possession in the first half, and notched five rushing yards and an incomplete pass. The teams went into the locker rooms tied at 10 points each, but the more pressing concern for Carolina was the health of their starting QB. Shaw left the sidelines before halftime and was keeping his right arm as still as possible. Things looked grim.

It was announced that Shaw had a shoulder contusion and was being evaluated, then we found out that he’d tried to come out and throw in pads and was unsuccessful. That meant Thompson got the ball again to start the second half. Again, he was unremarkable. His final line on the night was 0-for-3, with five carries for -4 yards.

Time out for a non-sports comment: Steve Spurrier apparently changed clothes at the half, as he came out in a different shirt and visor than he’d had on before. He also sported a baseball hat for a few minutes in the first quarter. Maybe that was because it was raining, but it was weird. Anyway…

Thankfully, Connor was able to return to the game, though he still appeared to be favoring his right arm. Before Shaw’s return, though, the Cocks and Dores traded punts, making for a rather boring game. With just under 10 minutes remaining the in the quarter, Vandy found the red zone – and the end zone – again, this time for another field goal. That put them up 13-10, and things were looking bleak for South Carolina.

Then Shaw came back and the quarter ended. It looked as though Vanderbilt was poised to make a statement and upset a Top 10 team on opening night, at home, on national television. The Commodores looked motivated, hungry, and ready to pounce. The Gamecocks looked tired and deflated. Then it was rally time.

Shaw and Lattimore started off the fourth quarter with a throw and catch that earned a first down. Two plays later, Shaw found Justice Cunningham for a pickup of 20 yards. Cunningham got his helmet knocked off an a hit from Andre Hal, who earned a personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver above the shoulder. That got Carolina a first down, and a few Lattimore runs later, the Gamecocks were back on top, 17-13. The bar I was in went nuts. I was torn between excitement and freaking out. There were still just over 11 minutes left in the game. That’s a lot of time when your QB isn’t 100% healthy, you’re only up by four points, and the other team would love nothing more than to upset you (apparently they were referring to this as their “Super Bowl”…).

Thankfully, the Dores just couldn’t find a way to score again. The USC defense seemingly remembered sacking the QB was a good thing to do, and Vandy had to turn the ball over either via a punt or on downs after each of their remaining possessions. They were also victimized by a terrible no-call on what was clearly pass interference. Had the call been made, the Commodores would’ve had a chance to take the lead back. Alas, there was no call, and all USC had to do was hang on for about a minute and a half.

Marcus being Marcus (read: scoring touchdowns)

Lattimore obviously more than made up for his early fumble, which he said was a result of him being very nervous about getting hit for the first time. He led the team in rushing and receiving, and ended the game with 23 carries for 110 yards and two TDs plus three catches for 21 yards. This was the ninth 100-yard game of his career and his 32 career touchdowns are the third-most in school history.

Shaw finished 7 of 11 for 67 yards and an interception, plus he had 14 carries for 92 yards. He’s now 9-1 as a starter at Carolina. Seth Strickland saw very limited action in this game and was 0-for-1. For Vandy, Rodgers finished 13 of 23 for 213 yards, a TD, and a pick. He also had 13 carries for -8 yards. Zac Stacy, who was also injured during the game, led the Dores with 13 carries for 48 yards. Matthews had 8 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown to lead the receivers.

The Dores just edged out the Cocks in total yardage 276-272. Vandy had 214 yards through the air, compared to Carolina’s measly 67, but the Gamecocks rushed for 205 yards, while the Commodores only racked up 62 yards on the ground. USC had 17 first downs compared to Vanderbilt’s 11, but both teams were abysmal when it came to converting third downs, going a combined 6-for-27. USC had possession of the ball for just over half the game.

While guys like Wilson, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Swearinger, and Kelcy Quarles made good plays tonight, the defense seemed to be a bit lacking at times, likely the result of the fact that guys like Melvin Ingram have moved on and people are trying to get comfortable in their new roles. Hopefully most, if not all, of those kinks will be worked out by the next game.

On paper, the Gamecocks looked like the sure winner, but in actuality, the Commodores really should’ve won this game. I think James Franklin is a giant tool, so I’m really glad he didn’t leave with a victory. That being said, South Carolina barely eked out a win, and hopefully this was somewhat of a reality check. After the game Spurrier mentioned preseason rankings and reality, saying:

“You get a little press in preseason and think you’re hot stuff. We almost got our stuff beat tonight.”

USC will have to get their collective act together a bit if they want to stay in the win column for the rest of the season. Their next game will be a week from Saturday, the home opener against ECU. Shaw said he’ll be good to go for that game, but obviously his injury will be treated and monitored between now and then.

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