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Gamecocks’ Messy Day Ends in a Win

South Carolina started slow but finished well on Saturday. Big plays in all three phases helped the Gamecocks messy day end in a win.

Nothing was clean on Saturday in South Carolina. The Gamecocks had a shaky day from a penalty and execution standpoint. To make matters worse, the weather made it difficult for all players to get solid footing or secure the ball. Despite the tough day all around, the Gamecocks ended the contest with a huge win. Coming out on top was the most important thing that could happen. It is also noteworthy that Carolina finally dominated a game. Self-inflicted wounds were a major storyline throughout the game. However, even through the difficulties, the Gamecock defense had a complete game that gave them something to build on. This performance is big as they move towards their last SEC contest of the year. Although there were many highlights on the day, the dominating nature of the defense was the biggest win of the day as the Gamecocks made a messy day end in a win over Vanderbilt, 47-6.

Weather and Miscues

Rainwater and penalty markers covered the field inside of Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. The Gamecocks ended the game with six penalties for 40 yards. Four pre-snap infractions stood out as they all happened in the first half. Penalties have been an issue for South Carolina over the course of the year. The ability of this team to overcome the penalties says more about the opponent. To open the second half, South Carolina defensive lineman Alex “Boogie” Huntley was called for roughing the passer, and the Vanderbilt drive was saved. The defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs later in the drive. That sequence tells the story of how the Gamecocks overcame to turn a messy day into a win. 

Although Spencer Rattler had 351 yards and three touchdowns passing the ball on the day, many drops left opportunities incomplete. Even star receiver Xavier Legette had a drop and bobbled a few others before retaining possession. Difficulty handling the ball was not limited to the pass catchers, however. Both center Nick Gargiulo and long-snapper Hunter Rogers had bad snaps. Vanderbilt’s center had snapping miscues as well. While there were struggles, the Gamecocks overcame and finished the game with 487 total yards of offense, resulting in 20 points more than their average on the year. 

Offensive Milestones

Rattler went over 300 yards for the eighth time since he arrived in Columbia. This mark ties him with Steve Taneyhill for second most in South Carolina history. The statistical leader in this category is former number-one ranked quarterback recruit and current radio play-by-play man Todd Ellis, with 10. With two regular-season games remaining and the potential of a bowl game, Rattler still has the opportunity to eclipse the number one spot. Rattler has had a difficult year from the standpoint of his supporting cast but has still managed to have a season worthy of being called special. NFL scouts have the opportunity to see Rattler in a different light after 2023. His decision-making under pressure is noticeably improved, and his interception rate is down. Most notably, his leadership is the talk of those interacting with him from inside and outside the Gamecock football program.

Not to be outdone, the leading receiver for the Gamecocks, Legette, went over 1,000 yards on the season. He had nine catches for 120 yards on the day. The Mullins, South Carolina native was the No. 17 athlete in the country coming out of high school. However, he did not draw high expectations as a freshman. Defying expectations, his athleticism and drive got him on the field early. Despite his ability to win against defenders, drops plagued him for a couple of years. Off-season buzz from coaches and other players was that Legette was going to have a big year in 2023. His work ethic and an injury to last year’s leading receiver, Juice Wells, gave Legette all he needed to break out. With two massive games remaining, Legette has moved into fifth place on the Gamecocks’ single-season receiving list. He looks to continue his historic year and keep climbing. 

Highlights of the Day

Huntley may have had the one roughing the passer penalty mentioned above, but that did not define his day. The senior defensive lineman caught a touchdown for the first score of the day and followed it up with a drive-ending tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Huntley’s fumble recovery was one of two for Carolina. The turnovers along with a blocked punt helped the Gamecocks’ messy day end in a win. Keenan Nelson Jr. broke through on a low snap to the Vandy punter, made the block, picked it up himself, and returned it for a touchdown. South Carolina was dangerously close to blocking a punt in the weeks leading up to this matchup and almost had another one early against the Commodores. The special teams’ breakthrough is significant for a Gamecocks unit that has not met expectations thus far in 2023. 

Finally, the Gamecocks got up by a wide enough margin that coaches saw fit to put in freshman quarterback LaNorris Sellers. In his only other action of the season, against Furman, Sellers flashed his ability and threw two touchdowns in only four passing attempts. This time around, on his only drive of the day, Sellers called his own number and ran 36 yards for a touchdown. The 6’3”, 245-pound quarterback is the future in Columbia. He continues to give Gamecock fans an exciting picture of what life after Rattler will look like. 

With two wins in a row for the first time since November of 2022 (Tennessee and Clemson), the Gamecocks look to keep the momentum going next week. They welcome Kentucky to what promises to be a hostile nighttime atmosphere in Willy-B. 

 

Photo courtesy: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

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