COLUMBIA South Carolinas football agenda this week was to do something about a porous defense and address a negative turnover ratio.
The Gamecocks got that half-right, holding Vanderbilt scoreless for the first 26 minutes. But the turnovers were still an issue, allowing the Commodores to trim a 28-point deficit to 10 before South Carolina held on for a 35-25 victory at Williams Brice Stadium.
Coach Steve Spurrier loved that his team held Vanderbilt to 2-for-12 in third-down conversions and 268 yards. But two fumbles and an interception made this one surprisingly close after South Carolina jumped out to a 28-0 lead.
We can look at the stats and say they didnt get 300 yards on us, Spurrier said. And without the turnovers, they wouldnt have gotten 25 points on us. We got a little bit careless.
Particularly so on special teams, where the Gamecocks twice gave up the ball. The one interception, by backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, was returned 69 yards by Vanderbilt cornerback Steven Clarke to within 1 yard of the end zone, setting up the Commodores first score late in the first half.
The game looked like we were really dominating, and then stuff started happening, Spurrier said of a fumbled kickoff return by Shon Carson and a punt that grazed off T.J. Gurley, giving Vanderbilt the ball. Those turnovers gave the Commodores two fourth-quarter possessions within 37 yards of the end zone.
Spurrier has been frustrated all season by his teams propensity for giving the ball away and limited ability to take it away. He said those plays had him thinking, Why dont I just go for it on every fourth-and-1 or (fourth-and-) 2?
Despite the late mistakes, Spurrier and his players saw this one as progress, following last weeks 41-30 road loss at Georgia. The 13th-ranked Gamecocks improved to 2-1 (1-1 in the SEC) and now get a weekend off before a non-conference road trip to Central Florida (which surprised Penn State on the road Saturday 34-31).
The offense was sound, particularly with starter Connor Shaw at quarterback. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns, never getting intercepted or sacked. Shaw was also the Gamecocks leading rusher with 84 yards on 19 carries.
He seemed to have the Commodores confused defensively, particularly in the first half.
Its hard on a defense when a quarterback can both throw and run, said wide receiver Bruce Ellington (eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown). And weve got his back.
The defense struggled against Georgia and star end Jadeveon Clowney expressed frustration with how effectively the Bulldogs ran away from him a week ago. Saturday Clowney had more impact, with a sack and a fumble forced on the same play. Clowney shifted around more in the Gamecocks alignments, even playing some nose guard.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said the key was simplifying the game plan for a relatively young unit.
I tried to get back to basics. I probably tried to do too many things with the young guys, Ward said. Now weve got to create some more turnovers.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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