NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ninth-ranked South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier got a big scare to open the season. Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw helped the Gamecocks grind their way through past Vanderbilt.
Lattimore ran for two touchdowns and 110 yards in his first game back after tearing his left ACL, and Shaw ran for 92 yards while playing the second half with an injured shoulder as No. 9 South Carolina rallied for a 17-13 victory against Vanderbilt on Thursday night.
“Maybe it’s good for us,” Spurrier said. “You look at the preseason press we thought we were hot stuff. Then we almost got that stuff beat out of us.”
This is the highest ranking South Carolina has ever started a season, and the Gamecocks are expected to challenge for an Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title after going 11-2 last season.
But Shaw bruised his right, throwing shoulder late in the first half and missed the first two series of the third quarter before returning. The junior drove the Gamecocks for the go-ahead touchdown and ran 12 yards to the Vandy 1 before rolling in pain in the end zone.
Lattimore scored the go-ahead TD on a 1-yard run with 11:25 to go.
“They gave me some medicine,” Shaw said. “I got a ball and just started working out, I didn’t want it to get stiff on me. It was painful, but I got through it.”
Spurrier called Shaw’s performance gutsy after taking a helmet to the shoulder blade that left his throwing shoulder bruised but not dislocated. Spurrier said Shaw even assured him he could pick up a first down inside the final minute to make sure the Gamecocks ran out the clock to seal the win.
“He’ll be sore for a while. I think he should be OK. Had some nice runs there. He was hurting a little bit. That’s what it took,” Spurrier said.
Vanderbilt had plenty of time to attempt a comeback, the last with 5:08 left. But the Commodores turned it over on downs with 1:47 to go when Jordan Matthews couldn’t handle a fourth-down pass from Jordan Rodgers.
Gamecocks defensive back D.J. Swearinger appeared to grab Matthews’ arm before the ball arrived.
“You did know the SEC just came out with very clear rules about talking about the officials and what happens after games,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. “Trying to get me fined?”
Matthews refused to comment on the no-call, though he waved his arms looking for a flag.
“I’ve got to get more open,” Matthews said.
Vanderbilt didn’t have the sellout crowd Franklin wanted, but most of the 38,393 who did turn out were wearing black as part of a “blackout.” The Commodores came up with three sacks and forced two turnovers, and they outgained South Carolina 276-272 in total offense. But South Carolina had a 115-17 advantage in the fourth quarter.
“At some point, we’ve got to find a way to win these tough games,” Franklin said. “The margin of error is not real big for us.”
But South Carolina had Lattimore and Shaw running through and around the Commodores all night long. Lattimore played for the first time since tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament last October. The Gamecocks also got five sacks, and Shaq Wilson came up with an interception to end a Vandy scoring threat that set up Lattimore’s first TD, a 29-yarder in the first quarter.
“We couldn’t get much passing, so we had to at least try to run and get a touchdown or two and let our defense play,” Spurrier said. “And fortunately, our defense held them to 13.”
The Gamecocks’ night started off with two turnovers and a penalty on their first four offensive plays. Lattimore lost a fumble on his first carry. Spurrier used three different quarterbacks, including senior Seth Strickland who’s only on the depth chart as a holder when Shaw shuffled to the sideline holding his right arm close to his side to protect his aching shoulder.
“I hated that happening, but I just had to forget about it,” Lattimore said of his fumble. “After a few runs, I started to feel like myself again.”
South Carolina finished with 67 yards passing, a rare stat for a Spurrier-coached team.
“I hope we play a lot better offensively next week,” Spurrier said of the home opener against East Carolina.
Even with the ugly start, South Carolina jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Vanderbilt came right back with 10 straight points to tie it up going into halftime.
Rodgers threw a 78-yard TD pass to Matthews in the second quarter as Vanderbilt scored 10 straight points to tie up the Gamecocks. Carey Spear put Vanderbilt ahead 13-10 with his second field goal, a 44-yarder, with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Shaw was hurt at the end of a 2-yard run down to the Vanderbilt 46 late in the first half. He went to the sideline before going to the locker room where he was examined. Dylan Thompson finished the half and oversaw two three-and-outs to start the second half before Shaw ran back to the Gamecocks’ sideline.
The junior quarterback, who now has won nine of his 10 starts, came back into the game with 6:02 left in the third quarter. He went three-and-out himself before putting together the game-winning drive. The big play was a 20-yard pass to Justice Cunningham. Officials flagged Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal for hitting a defenseless receiver above the shoulder, knocking the Cunningham’s helmet off.
Hal tried to make up for the penalty with a 52-yard kickoff return, but the Commodores punted it back after going three-and-out to lose momentum.