Somehow, some way South Carolina escaped.
On an afternoon filled with botches, bungles and blunders, USC marched 75 yards in a minute and a half to steal Saturday’s slugfest with Vanderbilt 21-20.
After an anemic outing from starting quarterback Luke Doty, South Carolina turned to backup signal-caller and converted graduate assistant Zeb Noland for the final drive of the night. Noland, who hadn’t played since his hand was stepped on Week 3 at No. 1 Georgia, connected on five of his eight passes.
Zipping a pass over a pair of Commodore defenders, it was Noland’s final throw of the night that found a wide-open Xavier Legette in the back end of the end zone. One Parker White extra point and 35 seconds later, South Carolina found its first Southeastern Conference win of the season.
Saturday proved the latest afternoon filled with self-inflicted wounds.
Twice the South Carolina secondary was beat off the line or busted in coverage in the first half as Vanderbilt turned in their first two plays of 40 yards or more. It happened a third time when Commodores receiver Will Sheppard slipped off a Darius Rush tackle and scampered 52 yards into the end zone.
Vanderbilt — which entered the day ranked dead last in the Southeastern Conference in passing, scoring and total yards — was outgained by a single yard in the first half only after quarterback Mike Wright’s kneel down to end the second quarter.
Without running back Juju McDowell, USC turned to former top-50 recruit MarShawn Lloyd to spell talented tailback Kevin Harris. Lloyd responded by coughing up the football inside the South Carolina 20-yard line.
Four plays later, Vanderbilt running back Rocko Griffin plunged into the end zone for a one-yard score to pull the Commodores within four points.
Through six games this fall, South Carolina had, at the least, proved competent and composed in making halftime adjustments. Saturday, it failed.
First it was White’s misfire that kept the Gamecocks behind by three points. Next tight end Jaheim Bell — who’s 82-yard touchdown reception brought fans to their feet in the earliest stages of Saturday’s contest — slipped inside the Vanderbilt 10-yard line on a similar seam route to the one he scored on, but fumbled just before slamming into the turf.
Finally, it was South Carolina sophomore signal-caller Luke Doty that fell on the grenade. Trying to force a pass downfield to a streaking Dakereon Joyner, Doty overshot Joyner and sent the pass smack dab into the chest of defensive back Dashaun Jerkins.
Two possessions later, Doty again missed a receiver as he was rocked by the Commodore blitz, lofting his pass into the arms of linebacker Ethan Barr.
As Saturday’s effort devolved into dissaray, the scattered students still seated in the north end zone began to chant. “Fire Beamer, fire Beamer, fire Beamer” they chimed. Minutes later, those boos and insults turned to cheers.
Saturday, South Carolina looked like the SEC doormat for 59 minutes. With one final gasp, it escaped the cellar.
South Carolina running back ZaQuandre White saw his first real action in almost a month Saturday. White, who hadn’t received a carry since Week 3 at No. 1 Georgia, led the Gamecocks in rushing against the Commodores with 65 yards on 12 touches.
South Carolina’s penalty problems persisted into Saturday’s contest. The Gamecocks finished the afternoon with 10 penalties for 78 yards.
1 — Vanderbilt QB Mike Wright earned his first career start in the wake of starter Ken Seals’ injury
82 — Jaheim Bell’s 82-yard TD reception was the 10th longest in South Carolina history
Next South Carolina football game:
Who: South Carolina vs. Texas A&M
When: Sat. Oct. 23, 2021
Where: Kyle Field — College Station, Texas