NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Steve Spurrier now trails only Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most Southeastern Conference wins by a coach. Not that the old ball coach is celebrating a win he called one of the worst he’s ever had.
Dylan Thompson threw for 237 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran for another score as 14th-ranked South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 48-34 Saturday night for its third straight victory. But the Gamecocks fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and didn’t put away a team playing the most freshmen in the country until the final minutes.
“We’ve all seen good football teams, we ain’t one,” Spurrier said. “Don’t say we’re one right now. The way we play? Maybe we can be? I don’t know . It’s no fun for me watching us play tonight.”
Spurrier now has 202 Southeastern Conference wins, breaking a tie with Vince Dooley and putting him second only to Bryant (292). Spurrier also got his 20th win all-time against the Commodores.
The Gamecocks (3-1, 2-1) started slow coming off their 38-35 win over Georgia in their first road trip this season. They got going by scoring 17 points in the second quarter, part of 24 straight points that gave them the lead for good, and beat Vanderbilt for a sixth straight time in this series.
Darrius Sims returned two kickoffs for touchdowns for Vanderbilt. The Commodores (1-3, 0-2) pulled to 34-27 with 5:57 left but couldn’t get closer.
“We’ll take a look at the tape and fix what needs to be fixed,” first-year Vandy coach Derek Mason said. “Our kids got better tonight … When we get it right, we look pretty good.”
Vanderbilt has played 31 combined freshmen this season, and the Commodores lost starting quarterback Patton Robinette to an apparent injury after he threw a TD pass for a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. Freshman Wade Freebeck replaced Robinette, and he drove the Commodores to two field goals by Tommy Openshaw in the second half.
It just wasn’t enough against the Gamecocks who answered with two TDs in the final 4:35. Pharoh Cooper set up the first, a 1-yard TD plunge by Thompson, with a 70-yard run off the wildcat after Vandy pulled within 34-27.
Thompson finished 22 of 34 passing with his TD passes to three different players as he completed passes to seven receivers. South Carolina outgained Vanderbilt 449-379 in total offense, and the Gamecocks turned two turnovers into 14 points, including a 53-yard interception return by Brison Williams late in the first half.
“Well, Vanderbilt has not been an offensive juggernaut in the SEC, and let’s see, we did hold them to really not a lot of points,” Spurrier said.
Thompson said he probably hasn’t seen Spurrier this upset.
“We can’t play like that,” Thompson said. “We have to sharpen up every facet of the game. We come in here and played sloppy. It was a sloppy game. Hard to watch as a fan I’m sure. But we did get the win. You appreciate wins, especially road wins in the SEC, but we have to sharpen up.”
Sims tied an NCAA record in the Football Bowl Subdivision with his two TDs off kick returns in the same game, the 18th time that’s happened and first since 2012. He returned the opening kick 91 yards for a TD and then took Vanderbilt’s first kickoff in the second half 100 yards to pull the Commodores to 24-21.
“We kept running right by the kickoff return guy, and he split us just about every time,” Spurrier said.
Vanderbilt got the start Mason needed off Sims’ kickoff return. Robinette made it 14-0 with an 8-yard TD pass to C.J. Duncan in the final minute of the first quarter. Vanderbilt held the ball for more than 9 minutes and outgained the Gamecocks 86-30.
Then Robinette went to the locker room with an apparent injury after he started 4 of 5 for 55 yards. Freebeck came on, and the Commodores stalled.
The Gamecocks took control scoring with a 45-yard field goal by Elliott Fly, a 29-yard pass from Thompson to Damiere Byrd for a TD. Vanderbilt was driving when Freebeck threw off his back foot and was intercepted by Williams.
Vanderbilt had its chances to recover three fumbles in the second half only to see the Gamecocks get the ball back each time.