NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The ninth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks turned in one of the ugliest passing nights for a Steve Spurrier-coached team to open up the 2012 season. Good thing the old ball coach had Marcus Lattimore back and Connor Shaw turning in a gutsy performance with a bruised shoulder.
Lattimore ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, while Shaw added 92 yards to help South Carolina rally and pull out a 17-13 win Thursday night over Vanderbilt.
“Our guys didn’t give up and I think we’re in pretty good shape, but man I hope we can play a lot better offensively next week,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina came in with high expectations after going 11-2 last season and finishing second in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division. Then Lattimore fumbled on his first carry, and Shaw had his first pass intercepted to go with a penalty in the Gamecocks’ first four plays of the night. It got worse when Shaw took a helmet on the back of his right, throwing shoulder late in the first half.
He went to the locker room where he said he took “some medicine.” The junior quarterback missed the first two series of the second half before returning and didn’t get South Carolina across midfield until the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t too pretty, but we’ll take the win, especially against Vanderbilt in this place,” Shaw said.
Spurrier said Shaw’s shoulder was 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.
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, and the Commodores turned it over on downs for the final time with 1:47 left 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.
It’s yet another botched call by officials for Vandy fans to put into their long list of grievances.
“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 said when asked about the play. “’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.
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.
“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.”
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. South Carolina finished with 67 yards passing, a poor showing for a Spurrier-coached team.
“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.”
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. Carey Spear put Vanderbilt ahead 13-10 with his second field goal, a 44-yarder, with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Shaw, 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 Cunningham’s helmet off.
“We had one of the worst passing nights we’ve ever had, but Justice Cunningham made a huge catch and got a penalty on top of it,” Spurrier said.
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.