As Steve Spurrier shook James Franklin’s hand he complemented the Vanderbilt coach on the speed of his team.
“They don’t have any slow dudes like they used to,” the veteran South Carolina coach said.
Even so, the Commodores weren’t fast enough to slow down Connor Shaw. When they did get to the Gamecocks quarterback and knock him out of the game, he didn’t stay down long. Vanderbilt's inability to contain him ultimately was a significant factor in a 17-13 loss in the season opener Thursday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Shaw shook off a shoulder bruise and a poor passing night to torch Vanderbilt’s new turf for 92 rushing yards. His tough 12-yard run that ended with a dive to the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter set up the game-winning touchdown. He later closed the door on a Commodores comeback by scrambling for seven yards on a third-and-five, a conversion which allowed No. 9 South Carolina to run off the last 90 seconds.
“Whenever your starter is in the game you’re better,” Franklin said. “Did he make a difference? Yeah, I think your stats show that. ... I wish he could have stayed out a little bit longer because we were having success when he was on the bench.”
The defense held Shaw to 67 yards passing but couldn’t slow down the run. Running back Marcus Lattimore, in his first game back since an ACL injury last year, overcame a first-play fumble and added 110 yards on 23 carries.
An ill-advised pass from Jordan Rodgers resulted in a South Carolina interception and led to the first Gamecocks score. After Shaw rushed for 20 yards, Lattimore showed his speed and physicality, knocking through safety Kenny Ladler on his way to a 29-yard score.
“Our defense, I thought, played very well but they’ve got to eliminate the big play,” Franklin said. “We can’t give up the big play.”
After knotting the game up midway through the second quarter, the Commodores got a reprieve when Shaw went out. As he lowered his head to absorb a blow, linebacker Archibald Barnes delivered one to the shoulder of Shaw, who exited the field with his right arm hanging limp.
Vanderbilt turned up the defensive pressure up front, harassing backups Dylan Thompson and Seth Strickland. Entering the fourth quarter, South Carolina had just 30 passing yards — all courtesy of Shaw — through the third quarter. Along the way the Commodores took a 13-10 lead.
Then Shaw returned. He completed all three passes for 37 yards, including a 20-yard connection to Justice Cunningham, who absorbed a huge helmet-to-helmet blow by Andre Hal and drew a 15-yard penalty.
Two plays later, Shaw again cruised through an open field and dove just short of the end zone, taking a hit from safety Javon Marshall. Shaw left the game again, only to return one play later to hand off to Lattimore, who plunged in for a 1-yard score.
“Shaw, he is a tough kid. I was really impressed with his toughness,” Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham said. “He was banged up a little bit and he fought through it. They did a really tremendous job running the zone read. We had a lot of trouble with that.
“He is a lot faster than I anticipated.”
Funny, those were Spurrier’s thoughts about Vanderbilt.
• Franklin refused to comment on what appeared to be a missed pass interference call on a critical play late in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 17-13 with 1:47 to play, Vanderbilt was faced with a fourth-and-seven on its own 38. Rodgers lofted a pass down the sideline to Jordan Matthews. Replays showed safety D.J. Swearinger put his hand in before the pass arrived and tugged on Matthews’ left arm.
Matthews put his right hand on the ball but lost control as the pass fell incomplete. He made an immediate plea for a penalty but to no avail.
“You did know the SEC just came out with very clear rules about talking about the officials and what happens after games?” Franklin said. “Trying to get me fined.”
• Though senior kicker Ryan Fowler was listed first on the depth chart, he did not see the field.
Junior Carey Spear made two of three field goal attempts, converting from 25 and 44 yards. The latter was Vanderbilt’s longest field goal since 2009. Late in the third quarter, with Vanderbilt up 13-10 he missed a 51-yarder as the kick fell three yards short.
• Junior Warren Norman was on the sidelines in uniform but did not play. The former SEC Freshman of the Year missed all of last season with a knee injury. On Monday, Franklin didn’t give a timetable for his return.
Sophomore running back Jerron Seymour did not dress out. Seymour’s 268 rushing yards were the third-most on the team last season. However, this year, he figured to be further down the list behind Zac Stacy, Norman, Brian Kimbrow and even back-and-forth receiver/running back Wesley Tate. Seymour was limited at times in preseason camp and battled a knee injury in 2011.
The Commodores had just 62 rushing yards led by Stacy’s 48 on 13 carries. Kimbrow, a true freshman, had two carries for five yards.