Vanderbilt balks on upset chance, falls to South Carolina 37-14

Photo+by+Madison+Lindeman

Photo by Madison Lindeman

Ben Seltzer

The torrential downpour matched the mood on Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium, where The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-2) took a tough 37-14 loss against the South Carolina Gamecocks (2-1).

In Vanderbilt’s SEC season opener, the game that was projected to be a hard fought battle felt more like a mugging. The Commodores came out flat, and after the game, coach Derek Mason put it plainly, “They won the streetfight.”

The Commodores had plenty of chances to make this a competitive matchup, but time and time again, they were squandered. Despite forcing three turnovers, the Commodores were only able to convert one short field situation into points.

When asked about these missed opportunities Derek Mason said, “Once the game started to get away from us, we struggled to gain any consistency or momentum.”

The Commodores appeared outmatched, and not even a weather delay could slow down the Gamecocks’ fast-paced offense, which put up 534 yards of total offense.

The Gamecock offense took no time to get going, opening up the game with a pair of 15-yard rushes, and capped of the opening drive in under a minute with a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Bentley to Shi Smith. Their up-tempo attack surprised The Vanderbilt defense and put the Commodores on their heels, setting the tone for the rest of the day.

After a Vanderbilt three-and-out, Rico Dowdle and the the South Carolina backfield continued pounding the Vanderbilt defense until Vanderbilt managed to force a 4th down  and the Gamecocks settled for a field goal, increasing the lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Vanderbilt has been no stranger to slow starts this season, and has been outscored 27-7 in first quarters through four games. Today was no exception, as the Gamecocks seemed to be operating at a different level, especially at the game’s outset.

Receiver Kalija Lipscomb said, “I felt like we came out flat. We need to start faster, and I feel like everybody knows that.”

Photo by Hunter Long

On the following drive, in an effort to jumpstart the offense, Kyle Shurmur took a shot deep downfield, but it was overthrown and intercepted by Rashad Felton, giving South Carolina another chance to rev up their offensive machine.

With mere seconds left in the first quarter of action, Bentley launched a throw directly at Dare Odeyingbo, who came up with the interception at South Carolina’s 23-yard line, the Commodores’ first possession in enemy territory.

The Vanderbilt offense took over, but was unsuccessful converting a first down on their first three plays. The Commodores were desperate for a spark, so on fourth down and inches, the offense stayed on the field.

With a two yard Shurmur sneak for the first down, they extended the drive, and just a couple of plays later, Mason’s bold decision paid off with a two-yard touchdown run from Ke’Shawn Vaughn, closing the gap to 10-7.

Just as Vanderbilt seemed to be gaining some momentum, Bentley answered back, connecting again with Shi Smith on a 52-yard bomb, then finishing the drive with a two-yard Dowdle burst into the end zone, moving the score to 17-7.

Mason identified a weakness in the Gamecock defense in the form of Lipscomb and exploited it, calling his number several times, converting the ensuing drive into six points for the offense on a spectacular two-yard reception by Lipscomb, bringing the game within one score, 17-14

After getting a solid defensive stop, Vanderbilt’s offense sputtered, allowing the Gamecocks to get another chance on offense before halftime. They were knocking on the door of another score before Vanderbilt’s defense stiffened and forced a field goal as time expired on the half.

After one half of football, the Commodores had managed to fight through a sloppy start and keep the game close, at 20-14, but the game would soon slip out of their grasp.

Once play resumed, South Carolina returned to the fast-paced offense that they had seen so much success with early in the game, quickly moving deep into Vanderbilt territory. As they neared the goal line, the defense stiffened yet again, limiting the Gamecocks to a field goal, moving the score to 23-14.

On the ensuing drive, Shurmur dropped back to pass, and the ball was knocked loose, and recovered by Gamecock defensive end Aaron Sterling, who brought it all the way down to the Vanderbilt six yard line. Two plays later, a one-yard rushing touchdown by Mon Denson put the Gamecocks up 30-14.

After a 39-minute weather delay, South Carolina was firmly in the driver’s seat, but the Vanderbilt defense refused to quit. The Gamecocks marched down the field once again, but when they reached the goal line Dare Odeyingbo recovered a fumble forced by his brother, Dayo, giving the Commodore offense a chance to get back in the game.

Despite a two-turnover game, Odeyingbo’s individual performance was of little consequence to him.

“I would take me personally playing terribly and still get the win, I’d take that any day,” he said.

Photo by Hunter Long

Taking control after the turnover, Vanderbilt’s offense stalled, but a strong defense effort managed to force yet another turnover on a great swipe by Allen George, giving Shurmur and the offense another shot at redemption, but the offense was stymied quickly.

With just two minutes remaining, Ty’Son Williams delivered the knockout punch, scoring on a one-yard dive, bringing the game to its final score, 37-14.

Today was not Kyle Shurmur’s day, his throws were often behind receivers, and that limited the effectiveness of the offense. As Derek Mason put it, “As he goes, those guys go.”

Mason made it clear, though, that the loss was not just on Shurmur’s shoulders.

“This was a team loss,” he said. “That goes all the way around. From players, to coaches, to me, in every phase.”

After the game, the Vanderbilt squad was none to pleased, and for good reason. This was a winnable game for the Commodores, but instead of celebrating a good conference win, the Commodores plan to forget this one quickly and prepare for Tennessee State.

“We’re going to flush this one,” Dare Odeyingbo said, “look to next week, and get back on a winning path.”