COLUMBIA, S.C. — The jury's still out on South Carolina's defense.
A week after getting shredded for 536 yards in a 41-30 loss to Georgia, it was all the Gamecocks could do to hold on for a 35-25 victory over Vanderbilt.
No one is going to confuse Vanderbilt's offense with Georgia's, but the Commodores put together a comeback that scared the heck out of the Gamecock faithful.
Granted, it was fueled by three South Carolina turnovers that gave the Commodores excellent field position. But just the same, Vanderbilt's rally from a 28-0 deficit proved that the Gamecocks' defense remains a work in progress.
All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had one sack—albeit a big one—and forced a fumble, but had an otherwise quiet night.
"I'm doing my job," said Clowney, who finished with four tackles. "That's what we talk about, doing your job and come around the edge. We're going to put the move on the offensive linemen and make a play."
Vanderbilt finished with 268 yards in total offense on 55 plays, but South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said it felt like more.
"Statistically, we held them under 300, but it felt like we couldn't get them off the field," he said. "We almost lost it."
Cornerback Jimmy Legree supplied the biggest play for the Gamecocks' defense. After Vanderbilt drove to the South Carolina 5-yard line, Legree intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line to preserve a 35-25 lead with 8:41 to play.
South Carolina's offense was able to run off all but 55 seconds off the clock.
Credit South Carolina's offense for helping put the Commodores back on their heels. The Gamecocks rolled up a 28-0 lead by scoring on their first four possessions, converting eight of nine times on third down and running 52 plays for 381 yards in the first half alone.
"Our defense hasn't played horrible," said South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. "I mean, we put them in bad circumstances tonight in the second half. It's not like our defense is playing bad. Against Georgia, could they have played better? Yes, but they'll learn from it, and it's not like they played bad tonight by any means."
And Vandy's 10 first-half points were hardly the fault of the defense. A 69-yard interception return set up a one-yard touchdown run for the Commodores, and Vandy got a 54-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
Since the Georgia debacle, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said the Gamecocks spent their practice time returning to fundamentals.
"We played better," he said. "Some situations occurred that we could be better in, so we'll address some of those issues and make sure teams can't run the football, then we can key on their quarterback.
"We tried to get back to the basics. I think I started doing too many things for the young guys, so we just tried to go back and simplify."
For right now, that might be enough, but tougher games loom down the road for the Gamecocks. Obviously, more improvement is needed.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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