This afternoon, Vanderbilt (4-3, 2-3 in the SEC) added to the run of top 10 upsets nationally, as the Commodores smothered No. 6 South Carolina in a decisive 17-6 upset win in Columbia. With the victory, Vanderbilt is just two wins away from its first .500 or better season in a quarter of a century.
The win was just the second time in school history that Vanderbilt has defeated a team ranked as high as sixth nationally. In 1937, Vanderbilt defeated No. 6 LSU, 7-6.
Redshirt sophomore Mackenzi Adams got the first start of his career and took every offensive snap. For the game, Adams rushed for a team-leading 84 yards on 13 carries, and had 123 yards passing. Adams had an interception and a late fumble in the fourth quarter at the Carolina 25, but kept kept VU's defense off the field just enough to get the win.
The true star of the game was Vanderbilt's defense, which held the vaunted USC running game to its lowest total yardage of the season. The entire Gamecock offense, including tailback Corey Boyd, was held to just 26 yards rushing for the game.
The victory came in the shadows of an eerily similar game the previous weekend. In that contest, Vanderbilt took a 17-7 lead into the locker room against Georgia, and went scoreless in the second half, losing on a last second field goal, 20-17.
Today, the Commodores likewise failed to score in the second half, mounting just 97 yards of total offense after halftime.
But the VU defense — led by a record-tying seven sacks — kept South Carolina's offense off balance and, most importantly, off the scoreboard.
As a result, many Carolina fans headed for the exits midway through the fourth quarter. Carolina allowed the clock to run out in the final minute, conceding the win to Vanderbilt.
Spurrier: "We got our tails beat."
"Give Vandy credit," said South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier. "They beat us, and they beat us soundly. They played a lot smarter than we did.
"Vandy played with very few turnovers, very few penalties, very few sacks," continued Spurrier. "And we had sacks, penalties, and not very good play by a lot of people, and maybe not a lot of good coaching by a lot of people.
"We got our tails beat."
Despite five penalties on offensive linemen for false starts, Spurrier wouldn't bite on the suggestion that South Carolina beat themselves.
"I'm not shocked at losing to Vandy," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "They're a good team, they're obviously a lot better than us today."
"They can beat Tennessee. They can beat Florida. They're capable of beating anybody."
Asked if he felt South Carolina had looked past Vanderbilt, Spurrier immediately reacted indignantly. "No, no, no. Nothing whatsoever like that, man," he scoffed. "You gotta be kidding me. We're scraping by everybody and we're not gonna take Vandy seriously? They lost to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, three Top 25 teams.
"If they'd have played three other guys along the way, they might be 6-0, you know that? They'd be up there where Ohio State is. Number one in the BCS — Vanderbilt could have been, if their schedule was such."
Spurrier used two quarterbacks throughout the game, but neither could get much offense going. The Gamecock offense committed four turnovers, including three interceptions. Of Vanderbilt's five first quarter drives, two began at the USC 24, and two from the USC 43.
Vanderbilt also capitalized on six five-yard SC penalties — many coming on what had been third and short situations. Coupled with VU's aggressive defensive pressure, the Gamecocks converted just one of 12 third downs for the game.
"We had a great week of preparation and game plan, and it's great to execute the way we did," said Adams. "We had to make plays, and today we did."
Vanderbilt benefits from good start
All of Vanderbilt's points were scored in the first quarter. Bryant Hahnfeldt kicked a field goal from the 15 yard line after Vanderbilt intercepted Chris Smelley at the Carolina 24 on SC's second drive of the game. Adams' 22-yard pass to wideout George Smith in the end zone put VU up 10-0, and a 20-yard throw to Justin Wheeler put VU up 17-0 as the first quarter came to and end.
"George ran a great route and he was wide open in the end zone," commented Adams. "I hit [Wheeler] across the middle and he ran into the end zone."
Similarly, all six of South Carolina's points came in the second quarter, off of two Ryan Succop field goals.
The second half proved to be a defensive battle, with neither team mounting many consistent drives. VU's defense threw a never-ending mix of blitzes, which consistently kept South Carolina's offense on its heels.
"We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback," said South Carolina native D.J. Moore, who had two interceptions on the day. "[That] allowed us to get a lot of interceptions."
"Oh my gosh," said Adams, when asked about the play of his defense. "They played their hearts out and I give them a lot of credit.
Bowl game again in sight
With four overall wins, including two SEC victories, the Commodore football program now moves back into position to have its first winning season in 25 years. After the close home loss to Georgia last weekend, Adams said the entire team knew how important today's contest was to getting back on a path to ending that streak.
"This was a statement made by this team, and this is what this team can do when they play good," he said breathlessly.
Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson praised Adams for keeping the game under control, and never allowing the coaching staff to consider bringing in former starting quarterback Chris Nickson. "We were going to see how [Adams] did and he played fantastically," said Johnson, who grew up in South Carolina and coached at Furman before coming to Vanderbilt. "There was no need to put anyone else in there."
Vanderbilt returns home next weekend to face Miami (Ohio), before heading into the home stretch of their SEC schedule. VU finishes the season at home against Wake Forest.