Defense helps S. Carolina overcome Stephen Garcia's four picks
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For the first time in his seven years at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier team is 4-0. But like most of his Gamecocks teams, he can't get the offense where he wants it.
No. 12 South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) beat Vanderbilt 21-3 on Saturday night. But Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions, Marcus Lattimore was held under 100 yards rushing and all-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery caught just two passes for 34 yards.
"I apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance," Spurrier said. "But we won the game."
Spurrier had no problem admitting his defense bailed this one out. The Gamecocks held the Commodores (3-1, 1-1) to 77 yards and just five first downs. South Carolina recovered two fumbles, both forced by freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and sacked Vanderbilt's quarterbacks six times. It was the fewest yards allowed by a South Carolina team since holding Wake Forest to 66 yards in November 1987.
"We just played solid, sound defense, put the guys in position and let them play," Spurrier said. "They played well and tackled well."
But great defensive games are just a small comfort to Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida who then revamped offenses in the SEC as a coach at his alma mater, winning a national title and six SEC crowns with his Fun-and-Gun attack.
There wasn't much firepower to South Carolina's offense Saturday night. The Gamecocks' two biggest plays were a 52-yard touchdown pass to Lattimore on a screen pass in the waning moments of the second quarter that put South Carolina ahead 14-3 and a jump ball that fell from a Commodore defender's hands to Ace Sanders for a 51-yard gain.
"I guess those were our two big plays of the night. A screen pass and a jump ball," Spurrier said. "I guess that's the way it goes."
Garcia did throw his third touchdown pass, as many as defensive end Melvin Ingram has now scored this season. Ingram recovered a teammate's fumble in the end zone to go with two sacks, a tackle for an 8-yard loss and swatted away a pass.
Garcia's problems caused Spurrier to throw his headset in the first quarter and his playcalling sheet in the second. By the time Garcia threw his fourth pick in the end zone in the fourth quarter, the Head Ball Coach could do nothing more than slowly shake his head as his senior quarterback spoke to him.
Garcia shrugged off his performance at first. "A win is a win. If we would have lost, hell yeah, it would have been frustrating," he said.
But a few minutes later Garcia seemed to realize that his nonchalance at his own mistakes is one of the things that drives his coach nuts.
"I hope this is the last week we play like this offensively," Garcia said. "I don't think we can survive playing like this."
Spurrier put backup Connor Shaw into the game in the fourth quarter, his first action since getting the nod to start this year's opener, then being benched after an ineffective first quarter. Spurrier took no chances, running Lattimore on six of Shaw's first eight plays. The other two snaps were designed quarterback runs.
Spurrier didn't close the door to a quarterback competition during this week's practices as the Gamecocks prepare for Auburn. But he didn't sound confident he had anyone he thinks can run his offense the way he wants it.
"We'll put whoever out there we can to help us win the game," Spurrier said, adding Garcia will likely start with "the way we're looking at things now."
Lattimore finished 77 yards rushing and 73 receiving. Sanders led South Carolina with four catches for 75 yards. And after eight 100-yard plus games last season, Jeffery has yet to have a 100-yard game this season.
"We're not playing at the top of our game. Hopefully we have a top of our game," Spurrier said.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's defense finally got on track after coming into the game allowing 372 yards a contest. They harassed Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith all night, finally knocking him out of the game in the third quarter. Coach James Franklin refused to update Smith's condition after the game.
Smith was 12-of-16 passing, but they were almost all short throws. He threw for 44 yards and was sacked six times. Backup Jordan Rodgers, whose older brother is Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers, completed his first two passes, but only gained 2 yards.
"We got manhandled up front. Their athleticism up front was obvious," Franklin said. "We struggled with that all night."
After complaining about his offense for most of his 10-minute postgame news conference, Spurrier tried to end on a positive note. But the sigh that started his ending statement gave away his true feelings.
"We're 4-0. We're going to enjoy this victory. We're going to get ready for Auburn," Spurrier said. "We're not going to go in the jar. We aren't going to point fingers at anybody."
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