Here’s a look at what went wrong and wright for South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ 21-20 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
South Carolina thumbs up
Zeb Noland: On the cusp of losing to Vanderbilt, USC inserted Zeb Noland into the game with just 1:36 to play, handing him the reins after quarterback Luke Doty threw two fourth quarter interceptions. Noland delivered immediately, connecting on five of eight passes for 75 yards and throwing a game-winning touchdown to receiver Xavier Legette with just 37 seconds left on the clock.
Jaheim Bell: Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said earlier in the week that the versatile tight end Bell is one of the team’s most dynamic runners in space and that the Gamecocks wanted to get him the ball more. USC accomplished that mission early, passing to Bell on the first play of the game and using him frequently in the screen game. Bell made his biggest splash late in the first quarter on an explosive 82-yard touchdown reception. Bell caught the ball near midfield then raced to the end zone, stiff-arming a Vandy defender to set up the score. The play gave USC an early jolt of momentum. However, Bell did fumble the ball in the second half after a 28-yard catch and run, ending a promising drive. Bell finished with a team-leading 136 yards on six catches.
ZaQuandre White: After running back Kevin Harris returned from injury and freshman Juju McDowell emerged as a weapon, White has barely seen the field. He last registered a carry in Week 3 at Georgia. On Saturday, White resurfaced in the second half of the game and emerged as USC’s leading rusher after only a handful of carries. McDowell was ruled out shortly before the game, and Harris didn’t carry the ball in the second half after running the ball six times for 35 yards in the first half. White finished with 65 yards on 12 carries.
Zacch Pickens: The former five-star recruit was a force on the defensive line for USC, leading the team with seven while also recording a sack and two quarterback hurries. The junior made his mark late in the first quarter on a fourth-and-goal attempt by Vanderbilt. Pickens stuffed running back Rocko Griffin with a massive hit one yard behind the line of scrimmage.
South Carolina thumbs down
The secondary: Coming into the game, Vanderbilt hadn’t produced a play of more than 40 yards all season, yet in the first quarter alone, the Gameocks allowed passes of 44 yards and 50 yards to receivers Cam Johnson and Will Sheppard, respectively, both receivers flying past the USC defense. Adding insult to injury, those passes came from the right arm of Vanderbilt’s second-string quarterback, sophomore Mike Wright, who filled in for injured starter Ken Seals. In the third quarter, cornerback Darius Rush missed a tackle on Sheppard, allowing him to break free for a 52-yard score.
Pass-blocking: Miscommunication along the offensive line has been a hot-topic issue for most of the season. Though the line did a solid job of opening up running lanes, it left quarterback Luke Doty vulnerable on more than one occasion. On a particularly egregious play late in the first half, both Eric Douglas and Jovaughn Gwyn blocked the same Vanderbilt lineman, giving linebacker Anfernee Orji a clear shot at Doty. Orji landed a sack, and Doty was originally ruled to have fumbled the ball, but after a review, he was penalized instead for intentional grounding.
Offensive gameplan: After talking all week about the need to start fast offensively and finish drives, the Gamecocks seemingly made the necessary adjustments early on against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks marched down the field on their opening drive, highlighted by a 25-yard catch by Josh Vann, and a long touchdown pass to Bell gave the Gamecocks a 14-3 lead with 5:07 to play in the first quarter. But the Gamecocks could never seem to click afterward. In a key moment, USC went for a 4th-and-4 play at the Vandy 13-yard-line in the second quarter, opting to push for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal. Doty threw the ball behind the sticks, USC turned over on downs, and Vanderbilt proceeded to climb back into the game and take a lead.
Luke Doty: The game opened promisingly for Doty, who threw a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. But in the second half, Doty struggled with overthrowing receivers, missing a couple of wide-open targets for first downs. Those overthrowing issues bit Doty and the Gamecocks in a major way in the fourth quarter, when Doty threw two interceptions to give the ball right back to the Commodores. Doty had only thrown one interception on the season before Saturday’s game. Doty finished with 242 passing yards but was replaced by Noland on the game’s final drive.