NCF Nation: Nashville 082

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
 The frustration  and bad losses are mountng for Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's a thought that probably crossed the mind of just about every South Carolina fan that trudged out of Vanderbilt Stadium on Thursday night.

Was it the Head Ball Coach's last trip to Nashville as the Gamecocks' coach?

There are bad losses, and then there are bad losses. This one will resonate for a while with Steve Spurrier, who's simply is not wired to lose four or five games a season. He is definitely not wired to lose to Vanderbilt in consecutive seasons.

The frustration is growing, and you could hear it as loud and clear in what he said Thursday following the Gamecocks' 24-17 loss to the Commodores as you ever have since he returned to college football in 2005.

He's a good enough coach that the Gamecocks can still turn this season around. They get a chance right away next weekend against No. 2-ranked Georgia. But it won't be easy, especially now that it looks like star receiver Kenny McKinley will be out for a while with a hamstring injury.

Spurrier fumed at the notion that some of his players indicated last year that they weren't ready to play when Vanderbilt upset then No. 6-ranked South Carolina.

"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."

Going back to last season, the Gamecocks have now lost five straight SEC games, and it doesn't get any easier with Georgia coming to Columbia on Sept. 13.

The 6-6 finish a year ago was hard enough on Spurrier. If the Gamecocks head back down a similar road this year, don't be surprised if the Head Ball Coach hits the road.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
 South Carolina struggled all night with Vanderbilt's defense.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Before Vanderbilt had played a game this season, junior defensive end Broderick Stewart set a pretty gaudy standard for this defense.

He predicted that the Commodores would be the fastest defense in the SEC.

"Hands down," he said with conviction.

After Thursday's 24-17 victory over No. 24-ranked South Carolina, it's obvious Stewart wasn't just blowing smoke.

The Commodores are fast, but they're also tough, relentless, aggressive and smart -- all the characteristics that go into making a defense SEC-ready.

This just in: the Commodores are SEC-ready.

"Our defense kept us in there the whole night," Vanderbilt senior quarterback Chris Nickson said. "They weren't going to let us lose this one."

The Gamecocks managed just one true touchdown drive against Vanderbilt all night when they went 55 yards in the fourth quarter to pull within 24-17. South Carolina's first touchdown came after Vanderbilt lost a fumble at its own 20.

"We lost a lot of good players on defense last year, but I don't think people realize how many good young players we have on this team," Vanderbilt senior strong safety Reshard Langford said. "This is the way we expect to play all season. We have the talent to be one of the best defenses in this league."

The Commodores have allowed just 30 points in their first two games. Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson liked that his defense played its best when the game was on the line.

"We kept fighting, and that's how you win games like this, play like we did in the second half," Johnson said.

The Commodores only turned up the heat defensively after taking a 14-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play. Johnson said they came with a blitz or zone pressure on just about every play down the stretch. They sacked South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley four times in the game and intercepted him twice.

"We finished the game the way you're supposed to," Vanderbilt junior defensive tackle Greg Billinger said. "We wanted it in our hands."

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
 Vanderbilt's 24-17 win over South Carolina is their first win over a nationally ranked team at home since 1992.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The surest sign that this may indeed be a "New Vanderbilt", as several of the players suggested Thursday night following their 24-17 victory over No. 24-ranked South Carolina, had little to do with the final score.

It wasn't so much that Bobby Johnson and his Vanderbilt staff completely and utterly out-coached the Head Ball coach (Steve Spurrier) and his staff.

It wasn't so much that Vanderbilt's offensive and defensive lines took over the game at key moments in the game, or that Vanderbilt was more disciplined and more opportunistic in special teams.

Nope, the surest sign was that the Commodores expected to win this game and weren't overly giddy afterward when they did.

"At Vanderbilt, people are always going to downplay us and second-guess us. I guess that's the history of our school, but we're trying to change that," said Vanderbilt junior tailback Jared Hawkins, who put the game away in the fourth quarter with some punishing runs. "We're trying to let people know that we're not a blow-off game and not a blow-off team."

Even after all the close misses, all the bad breaks and 25 straight years of losing seasons, Vanderbilt never blinked in taking down the Gamecocks for the second straight year.

The only thing surprising to Johnson was that it was such a surprise to some that Vanderbilt (2-0) would win.

"We beat them last year, and I don't know why everybody thought they got so much better than we were getting," Johnson said. "I was glad to get out there and play the game. It was fun."

The last time Vanderbilt beat the same SEC team in back-to-back seasons was 1998 and 1999, and that team was South Carolina. Of course, the Gamecocks won just one game total in those two seasons combined.

This was a South Carolina team nationally ranked, a South Carolina team coached by a Hall of Fame coach and a South Carolina team that had no excuses after losing at home last season to the Commodores.

"They were talking like last year was a fluke," Vanderbilt defensive end Steven Stone said. "They gave us a bunch of bulletin board material."

Stone, who had a key third-down sack on South Carolina's final possession, said he didn't hear much from the Gamecocks' players following Thursday's game.

"Nah, they wanted to get out of there pretty quick," Stone said.

For Johnson, who continues to upgrade the talent at Vanderbilt and get these players to forget about the program's morbid past, it was another big step to win a marquee game at home.

The Commodores' other big wins on his watch had come on the road. In fact, it was Vanderbilt's first win over a nationally ranked team at home since 1992.

"We move on from here," Johnson said. "This, I think, ups the ante a little bit. We've got a responsibility now to keep playing this way, play better, get better, work hard, and hopefully, we can do that."

Senior quarterback Chris Nickson said the Commodores owed the home fans a big win.

"We'd win one on the road and then come home and stink it up," Nickson said. "I want them to enjoy this. I want them to get used to this, because this is the way we expect to play. It's our house, and we're going to protect our house."

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The drought is over for Vanderbilt.

Don't blink, but the Commodores are 2-0 after holding off No. 24-ranked South Carolina 24-17 on Thursday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.

It was Vanderbilt's first win over a nationally ranked team at home since 1992. The Commodores pulled this one off with superior special teams play, physical football up front offensively when they had to have it and grit.

This was a huge win for Bobby Johnson and his program. I'm headed to talk with Johnson and his players, so check back later for several updates.

On the flip side, a devastating loss for South Carolina, which has real problems offensively.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Steve Spurrier brought in Ray Rychleski from Maryland to shore up South Carolina's special teams.

But it was Vanderbilt that capitalized on two big special teams plays to rally and take a 17-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The momentum in this game swung when Brett Upson's short punt hit the heel of South Carolina's Addison Williams. The Commodores recovered at the Gamecocks' 31-yard line.

Up to that point, Vanderbilt was doing well to tread water offensively.

But on the next play, Chris Nickson connected with tight end Brandon Barden down the middle of the field for a 31-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.

The Commodores later blocked Ryan Succop's 42-yard field goal attempt when Greg Billinger got a piece of the ball. Nickson capped Vanderbilt's best drive of the night with a 1-yard touchdown run.

In addition to their two special teams gaffes, the other thing troubling the Gamecocks was all of their pre-snap errors, false start penalties in particular.

Through three quarters, Vanderbilt looks like the more disciplined team.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- South Carolina is 6-for-6 this season. The Gamecocks have played six quarters and have now thrown six interceptions.

Chris Smelley added to the total with two picks in the first half Thursday, as the Gamecocks managed to stagger into halftime with a 10-3 lead over Vanderbilt.

Smelley, taking over for Tommy Beecher as the Gamecocks' starter, never really found a rhythm. And a couple of his passes that weren't intercepted were dangerous throws.

Vanderbilt missed a great chance to tie the game after Darlron Spead intercepted a Smelley pass over the middle and returned it 41 yards to the South Carolina 30. The Commodores moved inside the 5, but had to kick a short field goal.

The South Carolina defense has smothered Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson, who has 18 yards rushing at the half. Nickson totaled a career-high 166 last week.

Even though the Commodores are hanging around, they likely will need to score on defense or special teams to win this game. They just haven't been able to dent the South Carolina defense.

The Gamecocks will be short-handed in the second half. Star receiver Kenny McKinley watched the second quarter in street clothes from the sideline after suffering what South Carolina officials said was a right leg injury. It looked like it might be a hamstring, because he was icing it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It appears South Carolina will have to play the rest of the game without star receiver Kenny McKinley, who's on the sideline in street clothes.

McKinley had ice on his right leg earlier and apparently suffered a hamstring pull late in the first quarter.

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