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Hot Read: Gamecocks Rally Past Vanderbilt

By Matt Smith
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SEC play began with a pair of nailbiters Thursday night, as South Carolina followed Tennessee’s overtime escape against Appalachian State with a 13-10 comeback victory at Vanderbilt.

SEC play began with a pair of nailbiters Thursday night, as South Carolina followed Tennessee’s overtime escape against Appalachian State with a 13-10 comeback victory at Vanderbilt. The win was capped by Elliott Fry’s game-winning 55-yard field goal with 35 seconds left. A 10-0 Vanderbilt halftime lead went for naught, as South Carolina held the Commodores scoreless for the final 44 minutes. Let’s look at five observations from the Gamecocks’ successful start to the Will Muschamp era.

1.     The Vanderbilt passing game is back at square one. The expected progress with quarterback Kyle Shurmur no longer a freshman and wide receiver C.J. Duncan back from injury did not occur, as the Commodores completed just eight of 23 pass attempts – their sixth straight game in which they failed to complete more than 50 percent of their passes. The running game will be fine, as it was on Thursday night with 169 yards, but without more balance, there’s little room for improvement.

2.     Brian Edwards is the real deal. We heard plenty about the Gamecocks’ freshman wideout during the spring, but few expected him to make his college debut and go over 100 yards against a very good defense. His 33-yard toe-tapping sideline grab was a thing of beauty, and despite the drive resulting in no points, it appeared to provide a spark for South Carolina. Getting him the ball will continue to be a challenge as the Perry Orth-Brandon McIlwain quarterback battle continues, but Edwards could soon become the type of playmaker that no one thought the Gamecocks had on their roster.

3.     Vanderbilt’s defensive line isn’t good enough to let its linebackers shine. 3.8 yards per carry isn’t bad, but there were enough big plays from the Gamecocks offense to, unlike Vanderbilt, remain balanced. South Carolina finished with 121 yards rushing, with freshman A.J. Turner leading the way with 70, and did not allow a sack. No one was expecting Vanderbilt’s front to dominate the trenches, but South Carolina got way too much push for the Commodores’ defense to be as productive as it seemed it would be leading up to Thursday night.

4.     South Carolina should continue playing both quarterbacks. Orth and McIlwain alternated throughout the game, with the true freshman McIlwain making his debut in the third series of this game. Neither is going to take hold of the job, so going with the hot-hand approach might be best McIlwain is the future, so he needs game experience, but Orth, for now, is the better option for ball control, as he was in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s victory. I’m rarely a fan of playing two quarterbacks, but it might be the Gamecocks’ best option for this year.

5.     Neither team is probably going to a bowl. Vanderbilt had the better chance of the two, but after seeing the ugliness that was on display on Thursday night in Nashville, the likelihood of either team getting to six wins is slim at best. Despite the gritty rally, the Gamecocks have two more SEC road games in the next three weeks (Mississippi State and Kentucky), and might need to win them both. That said, 2-10 wasn’t out of the question before tonight, and now this team is a virtual lock to exceed last year’s three wins.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.