COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Vanderbilt looked poised to finally break its long losing streak to South Carolina on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. But a key injury in the first quarter derailed Vandy’s offensive gameplan and the Gamecocks picked up steam from there en route to a 24-7 victory.
Quarterback Riley Neal, starting in place of Mo Hasan who was already out with an injury suffered Oct. 19 against Missouri, orchestrated a commanding 11-play, 77-yard drive to begin the game. His 26-yard touchdown pass to Cam Johnson put the Commodores up 7-0.
Somewhere during that series, however, Neal got hurt. He jogged to the locker room and wasn’t able to return.
“On that hit early, I never asked our medical staff, but I would assume it would have to be a concussion,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said after the game.
Deuce Wallace came in to spell Neal and Vandy just couldn’t get anything going. The Commodores finished with just 189 of total offense and 87 of those yards came from star running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Wallace finished 8 of 17 passing for 30 yards and threw two interceptions. The Dores also finished just 3 of 11 on third down.
Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, one of the program’s all-time greats, also didn’t play. Mason said that was for a “personal” matter.
“I thought we lost momentum, obviously, when Riley Neal got hurt. We had 95 yards in the first quarter and really didn’t do much after that,” Mason said. “For us, just got to find ways tactically, strategically to continue to manufacture drives. We saw how the offense became limited and really bogged down just in terms of (South Carolina) loading the box.
“Just not enough opportunities to get the ball outside to guys. That’s something we just got to continue to remedy as we move forward.”
The Gamecocks (4-5, 3-4 SEC) tied the game at 7-7 on Xavier Legette’s 20-yard touchdown reception from Ryan Hilinski halfway through the second quarter. Running back Kevin Harris rushed in from a yard out six minutes later making it 14-7.
Wallace was picked off by R.J. Roderick on Vandy’s last offensive play of the third quarter. The Gamecocks turned that into three points thanks to a 22-yard field goal from Parker White. Another Hilinski touchdown pass, this one to Bryan Edwards from 25 yards out in the fourth quarter, sealed Vanderbilt’s fate.
Vandy’s defense did all it could to remain in the game until then. Linebacker Elijah McAllister forced a fumble and recovered that loose ball in the first quarter and Andre Mintze and Cameron Tidd made a huge tackle on a 4th-and-1 call in the third quarter.
“I thought this defense played hard. I thought this defense played hard all night,” Mason said. “I thought they played a lot of snaps. But this group never felt like they were out of the fight. (Two of the) times that South Carolina was down in the red zone they came away with no touchdowns. That speaks highly of how hard these dudes fought down there.
“I thought time and time again the defense sort of stood up and performed hard. Late in that ballgame it started to wear on them, but on that fourth-down stop (in the fourth quarter) you saw these guys are still in the fight. That’s what I expect to see. We got to match it in the other phases.”
South Carolina has now won 11 straight over Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC) and five in a row in Columbia. The Dores now need to win out to reach the postseason for the third time in four seasons.
Vanderbilt travels to No. 6 Florida (7-2, 4-2 SEC) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The offense doesn’t have a whole lot of time to try to figure things out.
“I think it’s just an all-the-way around thing,” Johnson said. “The offensive line can do better, receivers, running backs – everybody. We had a lot of big plays and we drove early in the first half, we just didn’t finish drives. That’s on the whole offense. We got to do better.”
• In 20 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn now has 2,034 rushing yards – the ninth-most in Vandy history. He now needs 599 yards (149.5 ypg over the next four games) to finish third all-time behind Zac Stacy (3,143) and Ralph Webb (4,173).
• Vaughn still needs two rushing touchdowns to move past Jerry Seymour (19) for third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list. Zac Stacy (30) is second and Ralph Webb (32) is first.
• Vanderbilt senior kicker Riley Guay is nine points from moving into Vandy’s top 10 for career points scored.
• Vandy safety Tae Daley made a career high 16 tackles Saturday.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 71,945.