No. 9 South Carolina Survives Vanderbilt in Season Opener, 17-13
But they still found a way to beat a feisty Vanderbilt team by a score of 17-13 in the first SEC showdown of the season.
It wasn't a pretty offensive outing, but All-American running back Marcus Lattimore and the overwhelming South Carolina rushing attack proved too much for a much improved Commodore defense.
The performance wasn't necessarily how Gamecock fans would have imagined, as the team is expected to make a run at the conference championship, but the outcome is all that matters at this point.
South Carolina gameball goes to: Marcus Lattimore. Returning from an ACL surgery, all eyes were on the potential first-round draft pick. He did not disappoint, as he took 23 carries for 109 yards (4.7 ypc) and two touchdowns.
Vanderbilt gameball goes to: The secondary. Opposing quarterbacks were limited to just seven completions off 15 attempts (46.7 percent) and 67 yards, which forced a lot of scrambles out of the backfield.
- The Vanderbilt defensive line is undersized and will struggle to put pressure on quarterback and contribute to stopping the run, which proved to be true in tonight's game. Its offensive line gave quarterback Jordan Rodgers time in most pass situations but collapsed during misdirections and option plays—the tackles have too slow of a first step and need to do a better job of trapping the ends.
- South Carolina's Connor Shaw looked like an athlete playing the quarterback position and a replica of Stephen Garcia (minus the off-field issues): He failed to find consistency through the air and made horrific decisions once being pressured. He does a nice job turning something out of nothing with his ability to run the ball, but needs to learn how to slide or his collegiate career will be short lived.
- Marcus Lattimore's knee is O.K. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, it looks as if he IS the offense. The team will have issues moving the ball when opponents put eight and nine in the box, which I expect to happen after Shaw's performance.
- Jordan Rodgers is a gifted athlete, but makes some pretty awful decisions on the run. Still, he will make up for it with a ridiculous, unprecedented play. He seemed to have gotten better as the game went on, as confidence continued to grow. The Commodores have something to look forward to this season with him under center.
- An area to focus on for Vanderbilt this coming week will be red zone play-calling and efficiency. There is much room for improvement here.
- In addition to the red zone, offensive coordinator John Donovan needs to cool it on the misdirection run plays on third down. The tackles are just not fast enough to use calls like these in those types of situations. Vandy has a really solid group of skill players, they just need to be utilized better.
- The ol' ball coach has way too much confidence in his backup quarterback, and used questionable play-calling on the first two drives of second half (Lattimore no carries) which almost proved detrimental.
- Downfield throws are going to be a rarity for South Carolina, since no receiver is over the 6-foot mark. Yet another reason why the passing game struggled tonight.
It was over when: Rodgers' fourth-and-seven bomb attempt fell through the hands of No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews—in controversial fashion—and the Gamecocks took over in Vandy territory with less than two minutes left.
Magic number: 22. Steve Spurrier has 22 wins in season-opening games to just one lost (1989 with Duke).
Final thoughts: This isn't the end of the world, Vanderbilt fans. You have an impressive football team that is on the rise and will only get better as the season progresses. If performances like these are consistent, there's no reason why the Commodores won't win seven or more games.
Unfortunately for South Carolina, this was a disappointing performance. The Gamecocks are expected to make a run with Georgia for the SEC East, but if tonight was any indication of how the season will play out, they won't even come close. The pass game needs to vastly improve—and quickly—or USC could be out of the race by mid-season.
Follow @Tyler_Waddell on Twitter
*Photos used courtesy of John Russell (AP)