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‘Dores deep-6 USC

Top-10 ranking spoiled; Gamecocks have not scored TD in six quarters

By Joseph Person
The State
Published: October 21, 2007
After it was over, after Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson received his ice-water baptism and the Commodores ruined a sunny, State Fair Saturday for about 79,000 South Carolina fans, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier tried to get his players to stay on the field for the alma mater.

A couple turned around to face the marching band, but most kept heading for the Williams-Brice Stadium tunnel. The day could not end soon enough for the Gamecocks.

No. 6 USC became the latest top-10 team to tumble, falling 17-6 to a Vandy squad that abused the Gamecocks’ offensive line to notch the school’s biggest victory in 70 years.

The loss ended any national championship hopes the Gamecocks harbored and put a damper on the season, at least according to junior receiver Kenny McKinley.

Though USC (6-2, 3-2 in SEC) is one of five Eastern Division teams with two losses, McKinley could not shake the idea of the Gamecocks losing to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1999.

“I don’t know about anybody else, but it’s pretty embarrassing to me,” McKinley said. “They spoiled our season. We were up to No. 6, ready to get into the top five, and they spoiled it.”

USC strong safety Emanuel Cook also could not get his head around losing to Vandy.

“That’s the sorriest team in the SEC we lost to,” Cook said. “We should’ve won that game.”

Try telling that to Vanderbilt (4-3, 2-3), which used an aggressive pass rush and a strong performance by quarterback Mackenzi Adams to knock off its highest-ranked opponent since a 7-6 win against No. 6 LSU in 1937. The Commodores have never beaten a team ranked higher than sixth.

Vandy confounded the Gamecocks with its zone blitz, tying a school record with seven sacks — the most USC has allowed in three seasons under Steve Spurrier. USC linemen combined for five false-start penalties.

“Amazingly, the eighth game of the season we had five false starts of the offensive linemen,” Spurrier said. “It sort of looked like one of the first games all year. We just didn’t get ready to play for some reason.”

The Gamecocks were 1-for-12 on third down — matching their mark at North Carolina last week — and have gone six quarters without a touchdown.

Spurrier, who lost to Vandy for the first time in 15 games, tried juggling his quarterbacks to no avail. Starter Chris Smelley and fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell combined to complete 23 of 43 passes for 256 yards when they were not getting planted in the Williams-Brice Stadium turf.

Smelley had two of USC’s three interceptions, including a crippling, first-down pick after the Gamecocks drove to the Vanderbilt 13-yard line trailing by 11 early in the second half.

Johnson, the Columbia native who coached at Clemson and Furman, said the Commodores’ gameplan was to pressure whichever USC quarterback was in the game.

“We were aggressive and probably brought five guys 70 percent of the time, at least five,” Johnson said. “We tried not to give their quarterbacks a chance to sit there and read.”

Smelley said the Gamecocks had the right blocking schemes called for the Vandy blitzes, but failed to execute up front.

“We had a gameplan for it,” said Smelley, who was 14-of-24 for 154 yards. “We just couldn’t step up and block them.”

Given Vandy’s constant pressure, Spurrier said it did not matter who was under center. Mitchell, who played for the first time in a month, was 9-of-18 for 102 yards.

USC had 22 rushes for 26 yards, a total that includes the minus-39 yards in sacks and other negative-yardage plays.

“I think maybe we just got to come to the belief that we need to throw the ball 15, 20 times,” Spurrier said. “I think ... that’s our only chance to win.”

In his first start, Adams rushed for 84 yards, tossed a pair of touchdown passes and finished with 207 yards of total offense.

USC players looked like they had not received their wake-up calls before the 12:30 p.m. start, staggering into a 17-0 hole after the first quarter.

The Gamecocks’ first two possessions ended with turnovers — a Smelley interception and a fumble by Cory Boyd — that Vanderbilt cashed in for scores. Vandy began five consecutive drives in USC territory and the Commodores’ average starting field position in the first half was the Gamecocks’ 49-yard line.

While Johnson hung around midfield hugging players and celebrating with his former Eau Claire coaches, Spurrier listened to the alma mater before following his players into the locker room.

“This should not be a shock to our team. We’ve been scraping by,” Spurrier said. “I never said we was a great team.”