NASHVILLE, TENN. — Steve Spurrier said rather hopefully this summer that he thought the days of South Carolina beating
itself were gone.
Nope. Not there yet.
An array of errors — by the offense, defense and special teams — kept Vanderbilt hanging around, and then the
Commodores broke through Thursday night for a 24-17 upset of No. 24 South Carolina before 36,850 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium.
"They were better than us tonight," said USC coach Steve Spurrier. "They might be better than us (period). We'll see at
the end of the year."
The Gamecocks' offense went in the mud, particularly, when senior playmaker Kenny McKinley left in the first quarter with
an apparent leg injury. He didn't return.
It's the first time Vanderbilt has defeated an SEC team in back-to-back seasons since it beat USC in 1998 and 1999.
The Commodores stunned South Carolina — No. 6 and 6-1 at the time — in Columbia last year. It was also Vandy's
first win against a ranked team since 1992.
South Carolina's stint in the polls will prove short.
"They just beat us," Spurrier said. "I don't know how else to explain it."
Down 24-10 midway through the fourth, the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) struck quickly — in one minute, 39 seconds —
to cut the lead in half.
And then the defense got USC the ball back in Vanderbilt territory at the 45-yard line.
A couple of Chris Smelley completions, to Dion LeCorn and Jared Cook, got USC to Vandy's 34-yard line.
Cook caught eight passes for 112 yards — both career highs — on the night.
But then the Gamecocks' offense went south.
An incompletion and sacks of 6 and 2 yards left USC in a fourth-and-18 hole on the Vanderbilt 40-yard line.
Spurrier opted to punt, and Spencer Lanning pinned the Commodores at the 5-yard line.
But Vandy was able to get a couple of first downs and run the clock to zeroes.
"We just didn't get it done," said Smelley who did have a career-high in completions. "We just didn't play well and Vandy
played great ... We just didn't finish."
Smelley, getting his first start of the year, threw two first-half interceptions. The second, paired with a 41-yard return
Darlron Spead, set up a short Vanderbilt field goal.
Smelley is now 0-3 as a starter against teams from Tennessee. He's 0-2 facing Vandy as a starter.
Spurrier was confident enough in the defense going into the half (Vandy had 50 first-half yards) to tell the team's radio
network that the only way USC would lose is if Smelley continued to throw interceptions.
That was proven false in the second half.
The Commodores (2-0, 1-0) pulled even on a 31-yard pass from Chris Nickson to Brandon Barden. Vandy had the ball there,
though, because a punt went off cornerback Addison Williams' foot. Williams was blocking on the play and didn't know where
the ball was.
It wasn't the only special teams miscue for the Gamecocks.
The USC offense then mustered drives of 11 and 13 plays, but each possession ended with a malfunctioning field goal try.
The first, a low kick by Ryan Succop from 40-plus yards out, was blocked. The second, from 48 yards, was missed left by
Both missed field goals led to Vanderbilt touchdown drives.
The first, to give the Commodores their first lead of the night, was aided by a 29-yard Sean Walker reverse. The second,
putting Vandy up 24-10, was capped by a 13-yard Jared Hawkins run.
"We were up seven and the next thing I know they've scored three (touchdowns) on us," said Spurrier.
The defense, strong most of the night, let USC down on that Commodores drive, including two third-down coverage penalties
by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
The outcome was hardly uplifting for the Gamecocks, considering No. 2 Georgia comes to Columbia next week in search of
revenge for last year's defeat in Athens.
Losing McKinley sure did hurt.
McKinley, the SEC's leader last year in receptions, left late in the first quarter with an undisclosed leg injury. He returned
to the sideline in the second quarter, but was not in uniform.
To that point, McKinley had three catches for 23 yards — and USC's first touchdown on a third-and-19 corner route.
As an encore to last week's shutout of North Carolina State, Ellis Johnson's USC defense remained aggressive and physical.
Those who figured mobile Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson would have carte blanche to run at will were mostly proven wrong
by USC's athletic front seven.
Nickson was held in check, with 17 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Spur Darian Stewart was particularly visible playing at or near the line. He stuffed an option play to Gaston Miller, causing
Miller to fumble. Stewart recovered the fumble, too, to set up USC in good field position for its first touchdown. Vanderbilt
was held to 146 total yards through three quarters.
Reach Travis Haney at email@example.com and check out the new South Carolina blog at www.charleston.net/blogs/gamecocks/
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