Is this the quintessential Vanderbilt moment, or what?
Of course, let’s keep that in perspective: even if the official had flagged Carolina on the play, it still meant Vanderbilt had to cover about half the field in about 100 seconds. That was anything but a given for a team that amassed less than 300 total yards on the night.
Still, it helps make for a nice, warm moral victory.
On to a few specifics:
- The game was closer than I thought it would be, for two reasons, both of which should be troubling to South Carolina. First, the injury to Connor Shaw. It’s funny – all those years we watched Stephen Garcia run recklessly and never get hurt and Shaw, a gamer who runs with a much more organized purpose than Garcia ever did, gets banged up. The Gamecock offense, which wasn’t exactly lighting things up before Shaw was hurt, completely shut down in his absence. And it’s not like Shaw won’t be facing a few formidable front sevens in October. It’s a little scary to consider how much is going to be left of him after the Florida game.
- The second reason, the shocker of the night, was how much South Carolina missed Alshon Jeffery. Especially the threat of Alshon Jeffery. The ‘Cocks gained a whopping 67 yards through the air. Their leading receiver was Marcus Lattimore. Shaw couldn’t throw anything longer than an intermediate-level pass with any authority, even before his injury. (There was only one completion of as much as 20 yards and that was to the tight end.)
- Lattimore wasn’t 100 percent, but he was still the best player on the field. The Vanderbilt defense keyed on him, which allowed Shaw to rack up almost 100 yards rushing, but still, when it came down to crunch time, Lattimore showed he had it in him to take over a game. He’s got some rust to shake off, but he’ll get better. He’ll have to.
- For all the smart-assery we’ve heard from the OBC about the schedule, I bet he’s not too unhappy right now about Georgia not being his week two opponent.
- The South Carolina secondary is definitely the weak link on the defense. And there are some passing attacks that are going to take advantage of that.
- The “SEC – Year of the Quarterback” meme took a hit last night. I’ve already mentioned Shaw’s deficiencies. Rodgers looked like the same erratic passer he was last year. He did have that nice 78-yard hookup with Jordan Matthews, but he had more than his fair share of head scratchers.
- I really, really like Vanderbilt’s coaches. Despite being obviously overmatched on both lines, they did everything they could to scratch, claw and compensate for that. The Vandy defense, in particular, looks like it’s going to be a pain in the ass to deal with.
- And I thought Lorenzo Ward did a competent job masking the weakness of his secondary. Take away that one busted play in coverage that allowed Vandy’s touchdown of the night and there wasn’t a whole bunch else. He’ll do all right this year.
- It sure looks a lot easier to kick off for a touchback.
- Who thought a Spurrier-coached team would be so boring?
For Vanderbilt, it’s going to be a year when everyone talks about grit, determination and being well-coached. Not so much about winning, though. For all their toughness, the Commodores held a 13-10 second half lead against a team with a one-armed quarterback… and lost. There’s still too much of a talent gap in Nashville. Vandy isn’t going to upset a better team without help on the turnover front, and even then, as last night showed, that’s not always going to happen.
South Carolina is a deeper team than it’s ever been and that helped last night. But you have to wonder how far the Gamecocks can go with that passing attack, even if Shaw stays healthy going forward. You also have to wonder if South Carolina’s front seven can do enough to compensate for the back four against a team with a more consistent passing game than Vanderbilt’s. The OBC would seem to have his work cut out for him.