Defense saves Gamecocks' offense

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It’s not very common that a head coach apologizes to a fan base after a win.

But South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier needed to and did after the Gamecocks’ sloppy 21-3 win over Vanderbilt Saturday night.

“Obviously, our defense was a big reason we won the game and (the) offense sputtered around most of the game, had a bunch of penalties after some good plays here and there,” Spurrier said. “I’m glad we had a good defense tonight because they did very little -- a lot of bad plays, interceptions, this that and the other.

“Really a poorly coached offense tonight out there representing the Gamecocks out there. I apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance, but we won the game and I’m really proud of our defensive team. They all played super.”

Try as they might, the South Carolina Gamecocks were unsuccessful at giving Saturday’s game away to Vanderbilt.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions (three directly to defenders and one while trying to do way too much), the team racked up nine penalties for 67 yards and couldn’t get lined up as the play clock ticked closer to zero a handful of times.

In the end, South Carolina just couldn’t shake a dreadful Vanderbilt offense that totaled just 77 yards (73 passing, 4 rushing).

You could tell the crowd was irritated most of the night, as boos rained down after every offensive miscue, and especially after ever Garcia pick. But with the Gamecocks up 21-3 and driving early in the fourth quarter, the crowd barely seemed phased by Garcia’s fourth interception. The boos that blanketed him after his first three blunders were nowhere to be found.

It seemed more comical than anything, and why boo if Vandy’s offense had produced just three points and 46 offensive yards to that point?

Spurrier was tremendously frustrated with an offense that registered just 375 yards, but Garcia wasn’t. Despite being benched in the fourth quarter and struggling to get to 228 passing yards, he said the win outweighed the negatives.

“A win is a win,” Garcia said. “If we had lost, hell yeah I would have been very frustrated, but a win’s a win and that’s all that really matters at the end.”

Still, Garcia understands that in order to truly be competitive in this league, the offense needs vast improvement.

“Hopefully, this is the last week we play like this offensively,” he said. “I don’t think we can survive playing like that.”

With the offense stumbling along, South Carolina’s defense truly redeemed itself by dominating. After weeks of criticism about tackling and poor positioning, the Gamecocks gave Vanderbilt’s offense nothing to work with. The Commodores were outgained by Marcus Lattimore’s rushing output (77 yards) and went three-and-out on 10 of their 14 drives.

Vanderbilt was 1-for-14 on third downs and turned the ball over three times. South Carolina brought the pressure all night, challenging Vandy to beat the Gamecocks deep. There was hardly a challenge, as South Carolina got six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and had a defensive touchdown.

The defense that gave up 33.3 points and 372 yards per game didn’t make it to Williams-Brice Stadium. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said there wasn’t a defensive revival during the week and he’s not even convinced this is an exceptional group. It’s getting better, but it’s far from special.

“I don’t want to give any false pretenses -- we are a blue collar group,” Johnson said. “We’re just old, simple pound cake. We gotta few cherries, but when we talk about this conference, there’s nothing special about the talent on this defense. I’ve been coaching 36 years and I’ve been around some great defenses and this is not one of them. This is a damn good defense that if we learn how to practice and play hard it would be pretty good.

“I think they’re starting to realize that.”

Great or not, with the way the offense is playing, if the defense maintains Saturday’s mentality, it will be this team’s backbone.

“If we can get our defense to keep playing like this, we won’t have to score too many points,” Spurrier said. “It’s a little discouraging at times that we’re not executing any better or we’re getting all those stupid penalties. That’s really embarrassing.”