Vanderbilt loses third straight to South Carolina 41-7

For the second week in a row, Vanderbilt lost at home 41-7.

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Pierson Cooke misses a 29-yard field goal attempt against South Carolina. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor

The outcome of Saturday’s contest can be summed up in one possession: Vanderbilt, starting on its own 25-yard line, strung together a ten-play, 64-yard drive in just under five minutes of play. The Commodores were eager to climb back into this ballgame, and they had an opportunity to do so with a 29-yard field goal. They also had an opportunity to do so on the following drive with a goal line, fourth-and-two opportunity. They also had the chance to mitigate the deficit by punting early in the second half.

But instead, they missed the 29-yard field goal. And they couldn’t punch it in from a mere few feet away. And they tried to run a double-reverse fake punt that gave the South Carolina Gamecocks excellent field position. All game, Vanderbilt looked so close—and yet, all game, Vanderbilt never gave itself a chance, ultimately falling at home to South Carolina 41-7.

“I told our group in [the locker room] today, for our coaches it was just about coaching through the adversity,” head football coach Derek Mason said, referring to his team having just 56 active scholarship players due to COVID-related quarantines and test results. “This football team has elements of being a really good team, but it still comes with a process and we’ve got to have production.”

The Commodores defensive front came out and produced in Week Three, much to Mason’s pleasure. At least, they produced during the Gamecocks’ first possession of the game. Vanderbilt forced a three-and-out early, the Gamecocks punted and Vanderbilt, the 13.5-point underdog, opened up its first drive on its own 33-yard-line.

Vanderbilt then returned the favor with a three-and-out. A three-and-out in which the offense, through a two-yard Jamauri Wakefield rush, an incomplete Ken Seals pass and a ten-yard sack, managed to tally negative eight yards.

The ensuing punt gave South Carolina a 12-play, 42-yard possession capped off by a 42-yard field goal.

In the first quarter, the game had not slipped away from Vanderbilt. The Commodores trailed just 3-0, and if not for Pierson Cooke’s missed 29-yard field goal, it would have been a tie game.

“I will say this: I like this team. I like where they’re at. I’m encouraged by the little things I see,” Mason said, referring to little things that The Hustler was unable to see for itself. “We’re not that far away. But you’ve got to get points. You’ve got to get third down stops. You’ve got to stop the run. And you’ve got to play better on special teams.”

The second quarter wasn’t all that different. After South Carolina missed a field goal, Vanderbilt found its way toward the goal line through 20 rushing yards on three Keyon Henry-Brooks carries, a 33-yard toss from Seals to Amir Abdur-Rahman and a few shorter passes. But on fourth-and-two at South Carolina’s three-yard line, Vanderbilt couldn’t convert.

South Carolina then rallied to the tune of a 12-play, 96-yard possession, capped off by a Collin Hill rushing touchdown, one of two for the Gamecocks quarterback.

Still, by halftime, the Commodores trailed by a meager ten points. Had they converted on the field goal; had they scored that goal line touchdown, it would have been 10-10. Vanderbilt just never gave itself a chance.

In the second half, Vanderbilt’s offense kicked into a new gear. It strung together a nine-play, 75-yard drive, picking up chunk yardage it so desperately needed through a 12-yard pass to tight end Ben Bresnahan, a 13-yard completion to Henry-Brooks and a 22-yard touchdown pass, with Cam Johnson finding the paydirt.

After that, though, as the rain began pouring down, as the field became sopping wet, Vanderbilt had to switch gears. They had to turn it back down a notch.

“I saw South Carolina make a few adjustments,” Mason said. “But really, a lot of the things that we got hit with on the defensive side were self-inflicted wounds. Not carrying in a carry situation, not seeing the tight end and being able to push to the tight end, not fitting an inside run that we had fitted all week. We misfit it and it went for a touchdown.”

So the defense allowed five straight scoring drives for South Carolina—four touchdowns and one field goal—with the last two possessions, a combined two plays, traveling 88 yards and 47 yards, respectively, for easy, untouched, long touchdowns.

“Everybody’s got to be in this together,” Mason continued after the game. “We’ve all got to get a little better. We’ve all got to strain a little more. Our coaching strain needs to be better, our player strain needs to be better, guys got to execute better—that’s why football is the ultimate team sport. It comes back to collective accountability.”

Vanderbilt’s offense responded with four straight punts. The drives covered negative three yards, then 22 yards, then six yards, then negative 15 yards before each punt.

Vanderbilt ended the game with an interception and a fumble on back-to-back drives. By then, though, nothing seemed to matter. Seals had been yanked and freshman Mike Wright took over. This game was over long before.