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South Carolina surges past Vandy, 21-7

Larry Smith (AP/Frederick Breedon)

NASHVILLE -- Getting big performances from quarterback Stephen Garcia and tailback Brian Maddox, No. 19 South Carolina surged past Vanderbilt 21-7 Saturday, spoiling the Commodores' Homecoming. The Commodores led 7-0 late in the second quarter, only to see the Gamecocks bounce back with 21 unanswered points.

The win gave South Carolina (5-2) the inside track to the SEC Eastern Division championship—-at 3-2 in SEC play, the Gamecocks are the only team remaining in the division with less than three losses. Vanderbilt (2-5, 1-3 SEC) lost its second straight conference game.

The Commodores kept the Homecoming crowd entertained for a half, playing Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks toe-to-toe. But in the second half the Commodores' old bugaboo—- punchless offense—-resurfaced. And the defense, left on the field way too long, was finally overrun by Spurrier's patient offensive attack.

Garcia methodically picked Vanderbilt apart, completing 31 of 39 passes for 355 yards. Tori Gurley caught 13 of those passes for 109 yards, and Maddox rushed 24 times for 146 yards. Meanwhile the Commodore offense seemingly spent the entire evening backed up and in third-and-long situations.

"It was a great comeback from last week as far as the defensive effort.," said Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell. "We played a good football team tonight and had a chance to beat them. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. There's no excuses."

"I believe they went to a fast-paced offense there for a little bit," said Vanderbilt defensive end Walker May. "As a defensive unit on the field we weren't always able to see the calls on the field."

Once again, the final stats reflected Vanderbilt's ineptitude on offense. The ‘Dores were outgained 484-250, and out-time-of-possessioned 37:21-22:39. They were a mere 3-of-15 in converting on third downs, with all of those conversions coming in the first half.

After a scoreless first quarter, it was the normally slow-starting Commodores that drew first blood. On their first possession of the second quarter, Vanderbilt put together a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive, capped by a 3-yard scramble by Larry Smith. Diving for the end zone, Smith stretched the ball inside the pylon for what would be his team's only score.

After being embarrassed the previous week by Georgia, the Vanderbilt defense responded with an aroused performance in the first half, sacking Garcia four times.

"We were definitely coming after him [Garcia] and it was a lot of fun to be a part of," said May.

The 7-0 lead would hold up for most of the second quarter, but Carolina would tie it up just before halftime. Going efficiently into hurry-up mode, the Gamecocks drove 59 yards in just 51 seconds, with Garcia finding Gurley in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining.

South Carolina's frustrated offense finally found an answer in the second half in Maddox, who was playing in place of injured starter Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks drove 93 yards, most of it on the back of Maddox, for a score that put them ahead 14-7 with 3:14 left in the third quarter.

The Gamecocks threatened again on their next possession, but were thwarted when Walker May reached up to block a field goal attempt, keeping Vandy within one score.

But Vanderbilt's offense never got back on track. The backbreaker came in the fourth quarter when Garcia found Alshon Jeffery in stride for a 72-yard scoring pass. The offense had time and opportunities to take the game back in the second half, but couldn't muster much of anything.

"Our defense forced nine punts and I think that was instrumental in the victory," said Spurrier, whose team snapped a seven-game road losing streak. "We are happy to get out of here with a victory."

The Commodores go on the road next Saturday to face Bob Petrino's Arkansas Razorbacks for a 6 p.m. ET game. The game will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net. The Razorbacks are 5-2, 2-2 after defeating Ole Miss 38-24 Saturday.

"We still have some great opportunities ahead of us," said Caldwell. "The season is not over by any means."

GAME NOTES:

Captain and starting center Joey Bailey missed the game due to an ankle sprain, and was replaced by freshman Logan Stewart. Defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone did not start, but did play after missing the Georgia game due to an injury.

Redshirt freshman Walker May got the first start of his career and contributed a sack, several quarterback hurries and a blocked punt. Another freshman seeing extensive action for the first time was Steven Clarke in the secondary.

Punter Richard Kent was a lone bright spot for Vandy, averaging 46.3 yards on nine punts, including a 60-yarder. Kent also attempted a fake punt in the first quarter, but it was unsuccessful. Caldwell said after the game that the fake had been called off but Kent missed the call because an official was asking him what foot he punts with.

Casey Hayward pulled down an interception, his fifth of the season. He leads the SEC in that category.

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