Snap Judgments – USC @ Vanderbilt 2016 Edition

Sep 1, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks place kicker Elliott Fry (29) kicks the winning field goal against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium. South Carolina won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy Jim Brown, USA Today Sports

Boom. Congratulations to Will Muschamp on his first win as South Carolina head coach. It was not a beautiful game to watch, but the final result was supermodel hot to Gamecock fans. This team has the potential to be very frustrating, but they showed last night they have tremendous fight in them. In a game where practically nothing was going their way, they stayed within striking distance with a suffocating defense and then finally found a rhythm on offense when it mattered most. It wasn’t pretty, but I don’t think many will be this year. A win is a win is a win, especially a game in conference and on the road.

Anti-Spurrier. Will Muschamp got his first win as South Carolina head coach last night, and while the game looked like some early Spurrier-era games, the coaching style is surely something different. Spurrier was terribly impatient with his offense, and was willing to gamble on that side of the ball even at the risk of putting his defense in a bad situation.

Last night, Muschamp ran out his punter on three straight occasions while in plus territory before halftime on Thursday. The thinking? Pin Vandy deep, force a three and out and get the ball back with good field position. Essentially you trade a three and out by them for a new set of downs for you. It’s a conservative, old school philosophy that is hard to argue with when it works. And two of the three times it did work, except for the part where we go down and score points.

It is also a philosophy that is widely panned in this day and age of high-powered offensive football. Indeed it was widely panned by the guy sitting in section V, row 70, seat 27 last night (that was me btw). But that philosophy preserved field position and helped prevent a momentum shift at a time when the game could have easily slipped away from us. So in that regard, it worked. But it doesn’t mean I have to  like it.

Frysman. What can you say about Elliott Fry. The dude came in as a nobody four years ago and won the starting placekicker job. He has been a steady presence in our special teams ever since. Sure, he’s missed a few along the way, but from inside 40 you never get that “oh god I can’t watch” feeling.

Beyond 40 has been a little bit of an adventure at times, and before his game-winning 55-yarder last night he was only 2 of 8 on attempts of more than 50 yards in his career. But he stepped up and drilled that kick with room to spare in a clutch moment which might turn out to be the defining moment of his USC career.

A Star is Born. People took notice of Bryan Edwards this fall when a photo and then an accompanying video surfaced of him making a twisting, one-handed grab in practice. “Oh boy,” we thought, “maybe this guy is going to be good.”

Turns out this guy is good. In a crowded field of young, inexperienced wide receivers, Edwards last night established himself as the go-to guy with an 8 catch, 101-yard performance against Vanderbilt. He showed it all last night – ability to go up and get the jump ball, ability to make defenders miss, and strength that means it’s going to be very difficult for one man to bring him down. He goes after the ball like it’s his most prized possession and somebody is trying to steal it.

Now that we’ve established that, if we can get some consistency out of Deebo Samuel and have someone step up in the slot (Jamari Smith does not look like the answer) then this receiving corps has a chance to be pretty good.

Turner the Burner. Another freshman (RS), AJ Turner, was a revelation last night. Eyebrows were raised when he was elevated to the number one running back spot, but against the Commodores he showed why. Turner finished with 13 carries for 70 yards, including a critical 20-yarder that set up USC’s lone touchdown. He was shifty and at times powerful despite his lack of ideal size. He looks like the main man at the tailback spot.

Meanwhile, David Williams continues to be an enigma, finishing with 5 carries for 7 yards. In his defense, he had no running lanes when given the opportunity. But then again, that seems to be a common theme in his career.

Orthquake. During halftime Gman asked me where I thought  would go at quarterback in the second half. My answer was Brandon McIlwain was going to go the rest of the way, and was probably going to be the man going forward. I even went so far as to say if another QB came in not named McIlwain it would probably be Jake Bentley.

I had Perry Orth dead and buried, and was shoveling dirt on him when he ran out to start the second half. He then proceeded to do what he does when he’s good – manage the game, make good decisions and put his throws in the right places. (His deep, over the shoulder, third down throw to Deebo was as pretty a ball as you will ever see.)

We have these shiny new freshman quarterbacks we desperately want to take over. But they’re just not ready. Athletically they’re both superior to Orth, but Orth right now is still a better quarterback. We may not WANT Perry Orth to be our QB, but we NEED him to be our QB. He delivered when we needed him the most.

Defensive. No stars emerged on defense last night, but as a unit Travaris Robinson’s squad played a solid game. Now let’s not get crazy, Vanderbilt is bad to very bad on offense, so the jury will remain out for at least another week. But compared to what we saw under the Hoke/Ward plan, it was a damn good start.

Special. Aside from one critical Deebo Samuel fumbled punt, the special teams play was very good.

Out the window. Conventional statistical wisdom says there are certain things you have to do to win a football game, such as win time of possession, limit penalties and win the turnover battle. We did none of those things last night, but that’s cool, we won where it mattered most.

Still, let’s get that corrected shall we?

Home field disadvantage. Five minutes prior to kickoff I tweeted out a picture of a mostly empty Vanderbilt Stadium. The Gamecock fans easily outnumbered the Commodore fans. But to their credit the Vandy fans eventually showed up, even though they still only outnumbered the Carolina fans by a 60-40 margin.

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