NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A missed call by officials at a crucial moment, a turnover ending a scoring opportunity and a field-goal attempt that fell well short. Pick an issue.
Vanderbilt found plenty of reasons it failed yet again to pull off a big upset. The Commodores allowed No. 9 South Carolina to rally for a 17-13 victory Thursday night in the season opener for the Southeastern Conference rivals.
“We’re trying to create a culture of winning,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “When you do that, guys find a way to get the job done. Tonight, we had a top-10 opponent down to the last second and had a chance to win.”
Vanderbilt didn’t have the sellout crowd Franklin wanted to build off the momentum of the program’s fifth bowl berth to wrap up his first season. 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.
The Commodores scored 13 straight points, taking a 13-10 lead on Carey Spear’s 44-yard field goal with 6:02 left in the third quarter. But Franklin decided to let Spear attempt a 51-yarder late in the third that fell well short of the crossbar rather than go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Gamecocks 34.
The offense sputtered after that as South Carolina had a 115-17 advantage on offense in the fourth quarter on just two drives, the last ending with 1:47 left when Gamecocks defensive back D.J. Swearinger grabbed Jordan Matthews’ left elbow just before the ball arrived on a pass from Jordan Rodgers. Matthews looked around for a flag, and the play set off angry Vandy fans who added this to a long list of perceived missed calls by officials.
“I don’t have a whole lot of patience,” Franklin said.
Marcus Lattimore ran for two touchdowns and 110 yards in his first game back after tearing his left ACL, and Connor Shaw ran for 92 yards while playing the second half with an injured shoulder in helping South Carolina win.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.