It wasn't always pretty, but with a boost from a freshman running back and another career day by senior Bryan Edwards, South Carolina bounced back from a disappointing loss at Tennessee to beat Vanderbilt, 24-7, Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks overcame a rash of penalties and sloppy play at times to snap a two-game losing streak and keep their bowl hopes alive.
Redshirt freshman Deshaun Fenwick rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries, while Edwards caught a record-tying 14 passes for a 139 yards and a touchdown as South Carolina rolled up 440 yards of total offense. South Carolina also got a boost from freshman running back Kevin Harris, who scored his fourth touchdown of the season, and freshman receiver Xavier Legette, who scored his first career touchdown.
South Carolina also got a strong performance from freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who completed 24 of 31 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
With three games remaining, South Carolina improved to 4-5 and 3-4 in the SEC. Vanderbilt fell to 2-6, 1-4.
A week after a disappointing 41-21 loss at Tennessee, the Gamecock defense also rose to the occasion, holding Vanderbilt to 189 yards of total offense and coming up with two turnovers to shut out the Commodores in the second half.
After struggling offensively in the second half against Tennessee, South Carolina had 205 yards rushing. With Rico Dowdle missing his second straight game with a knee injury and Tavien Feaster battling a groin injury, Fenwick got his first playing time since the Chattanooga game late last year. The redshirt freshman led the rushing attack, while Feaster added 53 yards on 11 carries in a limited role.
With a veteran running back group, Fenwick considered transferring earlier this year but Muschamp talked him out of it.
"I told him you just need to stick it out," he said. "… Sometimes you have to stick with it, you can’t just take your ball and go home. He stuck it out. Great example of a guy who stuck around and continued to work and he played well. He handled adversity and fought it, it’s really neat."
Leading 14-7 at the half, the Gamecocks slogged through the third quarter, shooting themselves in the foot with two costly penalties on one drive and coming up short on fourth-and-1 from the 22 on another. But safety R.J. Roderick made the defensive play of the game to give them some breathing room.
On third-and-2 from the Vanderbilt 30, Roderick intercepted a pass by quarterback Deuce Wallace at the end of the third quarter.
The Gamecocks picked up a couple of first downs, but the short drive stalled at the 6-yard line and Parker White kicked a 22-yard field goal to give South Carolina a 17-7 lead with 12:18 remaining in the game.
Fenwick then gained 38 yards on the next drive and Hilinski threw a dart to Edwards for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Gamecocks up 24-7. Edwards, who continues to break school records, took down another one Saturday night with his 14 catches tying the school record. His 139 yards were his eighth 100-yard game. He also returned a punt for 35 yards and scored his 21st career touchdown.
“They guy's effort and competitive edge is as good as anybody's," Muschamp said. "He competes on every down like it’s his last down. He is going to go down as one of the greats of all-time. … He’s had a wonderful career."
When Vanderbilt got the ball back, linebacker T.J. Brunson intercepted a deflected pass and South Carolina was able to run the clock out to secure the victory.
The Gamecocks were penalized 11 times for 95 yards, stalling one first-half drive and contributing to an early Vanderbilt touchdown. Vanderbilt was penalized just twice for 20 yards, which Muschamp said he found "kinda interesting."
But the offense was much more efficient, executing a balanced attack and converting on 9 of 15 third-down plays.
“I thought it was very workman-like. Offensively we were very balanced. We ran the ball well at times, we threw the ball well at times. Very good balance on offense," he said.
“We took a step forward today," Edwards said. "Just got to keep it going, keep the energy rolling into next week."
South Carolina got off to a horrendous start. Josh Vann dropped a third-down pass to stifle the first drive. The Gamecocks then committed three penalties on Vandy’s first possession, aiding a 77-yard scoring drive that ended with Jaycee Horn getting beat for a 26-yard touchdown pass. They put together a nice drive on their next possession but Mon Denson fumbled at the 9-yard line and Vandy recovered.
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the South Carolina offense finally clicked. After the defense forced a punt deep in Vanderbilt territory, Commodore punter Harrison Smith shanked it, giving the Gamecocks good field position.
They then unleashed a host of fresh faces to energize the offense. With Dakereon Joyner rotating in at quarterback and Fenwick and Harris sharing the backfield, the Gamecocks marched 54 yards in eight plays to tie the game. Fenwick had runs of nine and 14 yards before Hilinski found Legette for a 20-yard touchdown.
The scoring drive energized the defense, which held Vandy to a three-and-out on its next possession, giving South Carolina good field position again. The offense responded with a 59-yard scoring drive to take the lead.
Fenwick started it with a 10-yard run, Vann caught a 17-yard pass and Feaster returned to the game for a 8-yard reception and a 9-yard run. Edwards then caught a pass from Hilinski and bowled over a Vandy defender at the 1-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Harris for a 14-7 lead.