COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s defense was looking to make a statement, and it did.
A week after giving up more than 500 yards and bickering among themselves in a loss to Georgia, the No. 13 Gamecocks responded by dominating the first half in a 35-25 victory over the Commodores at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks, however, committed two costly turnovers on special teams in the second half to let the Commodores back into the game.
“We had some careless plays,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We’ve got to get better there (on special teams). But it was a good win and we’re happy to get out of here.”
South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) set the tone early, winning the coin toss and electing to kick. The Gamecocks forced a three-and-out on Vanderbilt’s first possession of the night, and limited the visitors to one first down and 29 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
For the night, Vanderbilt mustered only 268 yards and 14 first downs.
“Statistically they didn’t get 300 yards but we felt like we couldn’t get them off the field,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina’s offense shined in the first half, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions and amassing 579 total yards. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson picked Vanderbilt apart for 359 yards.
Shaw, who threw three touchdown passes, accounted for 368 yards of offense as he threw for 284 and rushed for another 84.
The Gamecocks scored first on a 12-yard pass from Shaw to Nick Jones, then added a 4-yard Mike Davis touchdown run and a 3-yard run by Thompson to lead 21-0 after the opening quarter.
South Carolina pushed its lead to 28-0 after Shaw hit Bruce Ellington for a 26-yard touchdown pass. Vanderbilt’s only touchdown of the first half came after Thompson was picked off by Steven Clarke, who returned it to the 1. The Commodores (1-2, 0-2 SEC) added a 54-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 28-10 at halftime.
South Carolina quelled Vanderbilt’s mild comeback attempt by scoring a touchdown on its first possession of the second half. Brandon Wilds took a screen pass from Shaw and weaved his wave into the end zone from 33 yards out.
But Vanderbilt scored a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to pull within 10 points at 35-25.
The Gamecocks’ T.J. Gurley then fumbled a punt and Vanderbilt recovered at South Carolina’s 37, but Jimmy Legree intercepted Austyn Carta-Samuels at the goal line. The Gamecocks then ran off nearly eight minutes to secure the win.
Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks’ All-American defensive end, was having another quiet game until midway in the third quarter, when he sacked Carta-Samuels and forced a fumble that was recovered by Kelcy Quarles. Clowney finished the game with four tackles.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was pleased with his team’s overall effort, but wondered if he was expecting too much out of his young defense.
“We’ve got to start getting back to basics,” Ward said. “Go back to one on one football, and keep it simple.”
South Carolina has a bye week before traveling to play Central Florida on Sept. 28.
“I wouldn’t mind to maybe be playing Austin Peay this week,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes when you play a team like that everyone gets to play. We’ve had three (tough games) in a row now. But anyway we’ll take some time off and try to regroup.”