COLUMBIA, S.C. — Vanderbilt was right there, on the precipice of its first SEC win in two years.
This seemed like Clark Lea’s vision, personified, pushing South Carolina to the brink. But in one of the biggest moments of their season, the Commodores couldn’t finish.
South Carolina quarterback Zeb Noland came off the bench to break Vanderbilt’s heart. He completed a 9-yard pass to Xavier Legette for the tying score with 37 seconds remaining, and the ensuing PAT ended the Commodores’ bid for their first SEC win since Oct. 19, 2019.
Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-3) was a 20-pint underdog.
Maybe it was a moral victory that the game was even close as 20-point underdogs, but the truth was, Vanderbilt had control of the game for most of the second half and gave it up at the very end.
South Carolina scored a touchdown with under a minute left and then recovered a Vanderbilt fumble to secure the 21-20 win.
Mike Wright gives a spark
Sophomore Mike Wright got his first career start due to an injury to sophomore Ken Seals. Having previously only played in garbage time, Wright made noise from the start. On Vanderbilt’s first drive, Wright connected with Cam Johnson for 44 yards and on the next, with Will Sheppard for 50 yards. The two plays were the Commodores’ longest of the year.
Wright was able to fool a South Carolina defense that had prepared for pocket passer Ken Seals.
The receivers showcased the same talent that made them one of Vanderbilt’s most hyped position groups. Sheppard especially showed his ability downfield with the 50-yard catch and a 52-yard touchdown catch in which Sheppard broke a tackle before taking the ball to the house.
Bend, not break
At the game’s outset, it looked like another long day for the Commodores’ defense as it allowed two quick touchdown drives, including an 82-yard touchdown pass by Luke Doty. But Vanderbilt settled in, bending but not breaking. In the second quarter, the Commodores stopped the Gamecocks on a 4th-and-3 in the red zone, Vanderbilt’s fourth red-zone fourth-down stop in 2021.
The Commodores in the third quarter forced a red-zone fumble to set up Sheppard’s touchdown drive. On South Carolina’s next drive, the Gamecocks drove to Vanderbilt’s 20 before missing a field goal.
South Carolina had more speed than the Commodores, but Vanderbilt made up for it by making stops at vital times and forcing turnovers, with two fumbles and two interceptions.
After the Commodores took the lead in the third quarter, they continued to make stops on defense, however, on offense they failed to either extend their lead or run the clock. On its penultimate offensive drive, Vanderbilt drove down the field but the drive stalled in the red zone as so many this year have and the Commodores settled for a field goal. That allowed South Carolina to stage the game-winning touchdown drive with under two minutes to go when Vanderbilt had the opportunity to put the game away.