’Dores get it done at home

Friday, September 5, 2008 at 2:44am
Vanderbilt players celebrate after VU's win over South Carolina. Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

This is what Vanderbilt had been trying in vain to do for 16 years.

By upsetting No. 24 South Carolina 24-17 on Thursday at Vanderbilt Stadium, the Commodores knocked off a ranked opponent at home for the first time since 1992.

VU has picked up big wins on the road in recent years, but slaying a giant in Nashville has proved to be an elusive assignment.

“We’re trying to defend our house,” defensive end Steve Stone said. “That’s a big point for us this year. We catch a lot of bad breaks here at Vanderbilt, but tonight we made our own breaks."

The Commodores (2-0) made their point Thursday in a resounding way. With the game on the line, they choked off the South Carolina offense with two key quarterback sacks by Stone, then stuffed the ball down the throat of the Gamecock defense on the ground to run out the clock.

Vanderbilt usually wilts in similar situations. This time, they defeated South Carolina (1-1) for the second straight season, marking the first time it has beaten the same Southeastern Conference in back-to-back seasons since 1998-99.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier brushed aside the notion that his team overlooked the Commodores.

“We were ready to play, we just got our tails kicked,” he said. “I’m sure those Vanderbilt players are wondering what kind of excuse the South Carolina guys have now. We don’t have any excuses. They just beat us.”

Tailback Jared Hawkins rushed for a career-high 84 yards, including 64 in the second half. Time and again, he gashed the South Carolina defense for key runs in the fourth quarter and scored from 13 yards out with 9:28 left to give VU a 24-10 lead.

The Gamecocks responded by trimming the deficit to 24-17 with 7:39 to go on a 5-yard scoring pass from quarterback Chris Smelley to wide receiver Freddie Brown.

On its next drive, South Carolina drove to the Vanderbilt 34 before Stone sacked Smelley on consecutive plays, igniting the Vanderbilt Stadium crowd of 36,850.

“Our defensive line was relentless,” VU coach Bobby Johnson said.

Forced to punt the ball back to back to Vanderbilt, the South Carolina defense couldn’t stop Hawkins, who seven-yard run on third-and-5 from the VU 22 put a dagger into the visitors.

“We knew we had to get out there, make a statement and get some big first downs in clutch situations,” Hawkins said.

Vanderbilt mustered only 50 yards of total offense in the first half, including only 14 passing yards.

The Commodore defense out-gained the offense in the first half, as VU defensive backs Darlron Spead and Reshard Langford returned interceptions for a combined total of 74 yards.

Vanderbilt, however, could not capitalize on the opportunities provided by its defense.

Following Spead’s second-quarter interception, the Commodores drove to a first-and-goal situation from the South Carolina 5, but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Bryant Hahnfeldt to make it 7-3.

In the first quarter, Langford returned his interception 33 yards to the Gamecocks 47, but the Commodores punted three plays later.

South Carolina went ahead 7-0 with 6:00 left in the first quarter when quarterback Smelley connected with wide receiver Kenny McKinley for a 19-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-19 play.

In the end, however, Vanderbilt made enough to plays to finally enjoy the fruits of victory in its own stadium.

“It can mean a whole lot, but we have to follow it up,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “This ups the ante a little bit. We’ve got a responsibility now to keep playing this way.”

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By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great win, Vandy! Hey, Frank Brown, what sarcasm do you have today?

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great win for the Dores. By the end of September Vandy will probably have a better SEC and/or overall record than UT. If that lasts until the end of the season, adios Fulmer.

By: damons on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great night in Nashville! This win should help in so many ways. I hope we came out of it OK. It was a very physical game. I hope we don't overlook Rice now!

By: HenryB on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What a great atmosphere in the Vandy stadium last night! I'll admit to losing my confidence as the Gamecocks scored in the fourth quarter and then took possession again. But both defense and then offense stood tall. Vandy won because they played hard and, yes, Spurrier got outcoached.

By: eastsidaz on 12/31/69 at 7:00

This VU squad left it all out on the field last nite. Congrats to Bobby and the team. A hard fought and well deserved win for the Black and Gold!

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Titan1, I am stunned. Although I should have known that Bobby Johnson was not a quiter. Winning his first SEC football game in his home stadium in his seventh year gives credit to his perserverance. This is the kind of thing that creates 15,000 loyal every year fans for the Commodores. I do think the embarassment of two consecutive losses to the Commodores will end the career of Steve Spurrier. No ego as large as his can absorb the humiliation of losing to Vanderbilt two years in a row. This is the problem with playing Vanderbilt. You beat them 25 years in a row for an example (UT) and it completely demoralizes your team.

By: BHait on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Frank, Bobby has beaten Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State at home. Last night was the first ranked opponent he's beaten at home.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 7:00

don't let the facts get in the way of Frank's posts. he's a genius I say, genius!

By: Bennyhaha on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The Brown Frank has no idea that Bobby has been beating SEC opponents at home since his 2nd season.

By: vandy36 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Frank Brown is just your typical UT moron that refuses to give Vandy any respect or credit. Nevermind Vandy was 2 inches away from winning back to back games in Neyland Stadium last season. We should be 4-0 when Auburn comes to town.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

By: JohnnyLaw on 8/29/081) I never said it was fall.2) I am not a Vol fan.3) I merely recognize the hilarious irrational optimism of the pre- and early-season Vandy fan.4) Just pointing out that a victory over a school not ranked in the top 100 is worth getting too excited about. If they can hang with the Gamecocks next, there may be a reason for crowing, but until that happens, it's just Vandy alums clinging to their delusions of football granduer and similarly spurious intellectual superiority complex.5) Titan, everyone knows that a redneck's neck turns red in the summer (from the sun, dummy), then it fades to a nice leathery tan in the fall. But if a redneck gets too much sun in the summer, he or she gets carcinomas, which show up black against that golden brown epidermis: hence, the "Black and Gold" of Vandy! Go 'Dores!Hey JohnnyLaw, where are you this week, I believe Vandy did better than "hang" with the Gamecocks!

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

BH, I stand corrected. I am delighted to know that they have won the games you mention. No wonder Bobby Johnson was able to perservere. I will go out on a limb and predict that the Commodores will beat Rice. Thank goodness they are not playing MTSU (aka the commuter school)

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

OneTimer, I appreciate your compliment. I really cannot in good conscience accept that much credit. I probably just appear to YOU to be a genius.

By: wiseguy on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Frank Brown appears to be a genius only when looking into a mirror.