By Bill Trocchi, SI.com
So which direction is Steve Spurrier taking this South Carolina program, anyway?
It is Year Four since Spurrier took over from Lou Holtz, and the records have been 7-5, 8-5 and 6-6 in the first three. The Gamecocks are off to a 1-1 start this year after losing to Vanderbilt for a second straight season. And like last year's game, when Vanderbilt posted a 17-6 win in Columbia, the better team appeared to win. Vanderbilt got a big break early in the third quarter when a punted ball bounced off a South Carolina player and was recovered by Vanderbilt. But since when do quality SEC teams lose to Vanderbilt because of one bad bounce?
The fact was, a Commodore team with very little experience coming back from a 5-7 team (including no starting offensive linemen and one starting defensive lineman) won the line of scrimmage battles when it mattered most. Vanderbilt pressured quarterback Chris Smelley for a good part of the evening and picked up big chunks between the tackles on its final touchdown drive.
With 2:34 remaining and Vanderbilt backed up on its own 5-yard line, South Carolina had two timeouts and a chance to get the ball back, trailing 24-17. It was time for the Gamecocks to show who was boss -- to avoid a second embarrassing defeat to a team it has traditionally owned. (Remember when Spurrier was hired by the Redskins and said the NFL would be tougher than college because 'there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL'?) Vanderbilt simply mashed the ball up the middle and ran out the clock with five manly running plays.
Spurrier is 11-14 in the SEC with the Gamecocks -- 6-11 since his first season. Not only are the Gamecocks failing to climb the SEC East ladder behind Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, it appears Vanderbilt is coming up from behind.
The Commodores have insisted the talent level has been rising under Bobby Johnson in recent years, even after the depature of NFL first-rounder Jay Cutler. The results seem to bear this out. Since Cutler left, more than half of Vanderbilt's SEC games have been decided by seven points or less, and that does not include a pair of double-digit Commodore wins.
Johnson maintained all week the South Carolina game was not going to get Vanderbilt over any hump, that it was not a program-defining game for the Commodores.
I'll give him that. But it may have been a program-defining game for the team on the other sideline.