Steve Spurrier said “the best thing” about South Carolina’s 14-10 victory Saturday over Vanderbilt was the fact that it was his team’s sixth win of the season, which meant the Gamecocks were bowl eligible.
Bowl talk around the Commodores has been minimal at best in recent weeks. This latest defeat, their sixth in eight games, all but quashed it altogether.
In order for Vanderbilt to make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history, it must win each of its four remaining games. That’s a dramatically tall order given that its next two are — in order — at home against No. 11 Georgia Tech and on the road against No. 1 Florida.
“We need to learn how to finish games,” linebacker Brent Trice said. “We had them pushed back a couple times but let them go and get big plays. We have to eliminate the big plays.”
South Carolina’s touchdowns were on passes of 35 and 43 yards, respectively. The second score capped a 99-yard drive, which required just five plays.
It was the second week in a row the Commodores gave up a touchdown n a play of longer than 30 yards. Georgia opened the scoring a week earlier with a 65-yard touchdown pass.
Last season, VU’s defense typically made the opposition earn every yard. The only scoring play of more than 30 yards it allowed in all of 2008 was a 41-yard touchdown pass to Florida’s Tim Tebow.
“Give credit to South Carolina,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “They did some good things and [made] passes when they had to. That was the difference in the game as far as our defense is concerned.”
It’s also a big difference this season.
A look at some other areas where the Commodores have not performed as well as last season:
• Red zone production. Vanderbilt has scored on just 18 of 27 trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line (67 percent) and has scored touchdowns on just 10 of those drives (37 percent).
In 2008 the offense got points on eight of every nine red zone possessions (89 percent) and scored touchdowns two out of every three (67 percent).
• Turnovers. The defense forced 30 (20 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries) in 13 games last season, an average of close to two and a half per contest. With four games remaining this fall, the Commodores have created half as many (nine interceptions, six fumble recoveries) as all of last season, an average of fewer than two per outing.
The turnover ratio is a respectable plus-5, but it could be worse given that Vanderbilt has lost on three of the 16 fumbles it has committed.
• The final 15. Vanderbilt’s highest-scoring quarter last year was the fourth – 65 points overall. At the same time, it allowed fewer points in that period (37) than any of the others.
Among the seven teams the Commodores defeated, only Boston College in the Music City Bowl outscored them in the final 15 minutes (7-3).
This season, opponents have scored more points in the fourth quarter than any of the previous three and have outscored VU by eight (51-43). The Commodores’ overall point differential for the season is minus-9 (142-133).
• Points. In the first eight games of 2008, Vanderbilt scored 14 or more seven times. It has been held to 13 or fewer six times, including each of the last four, in its first eight games of 2009.