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September 24, 2011

Five key plays



This feature describes five key plays from Saturday's USC-Vanderbilt football game.

Vanderbilt fails to capitalize on a turnover

In the first half, it wasn't an exaggeration to say the Gamecocks' best offensive play was a punt. Stephen Garcia had a nightmare half, throwing three interceptions and repeatedly missing receivers. His second pick set up Vanderbilt in prime scoring position at the Gamecock 22-yard line.

In a game where Vanderbilt had 77 yards of total offense, it was imperative to capitalize on the short field. Instead, South Carolina forced Vanderbilt to go interception, pass for 7 yards, and a rush for a loss of 1 on third down (thanks to a big stop by Chaz Sutton). The Commodores settled for a 33-yard field goal, their only points of the game.

Ingram scores again

Of all the unconventional ways Melvin Ingram could score, this might be the most unusual. That being said, the play had a familiar ring to it.

With the offense looking completely lost, the Gamecocks needed a big play from the defense, and some familiar faces came through. On third-and-7, Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith dropped back to pass and faced heavy pressure. He tried to escape the pocket, but Jadeveon Clowney stripped the ball. The fumble bounced to Antonio Allen, who scooped it up and ran toward the end zone. Allen returned the ball about 20 yards before a Vanderbilt player caught up to him and knocked the ball loose from behind. The ball squirted into the end zone, but fortunately for the Gamecocks, Ingram stayed with the play and pounced on the ball for a touchdown. The play gave South Carolina a lead it would never relinquish.

Halftime momentum

South Carolina still led 7-3 when it called its final timeout of the first half and forced Vanderbilt to punt with 59 seconds left. Ace Sanders got a nice 17-yard return to his own 43 to give the Gamecocks a chance to get some points before the half. On first down, Garcia scrambled for 5 yards. With the clock still running, the Gamecocks spread the field and threw a little inside screen to Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore knifed his way through the defense and outran everyone for a 52-yard touchdown. The score gave South Carolina a 14-3 lead at intermission, but it may as well have been 28-3 as dominant as its defense had played.

Sanders wins the tip drill, and Lattimore capitalizes

As poorly as the Gamecocks played on offense, they needed a little luck. It came on their first drive of the second half, when facing a third-and-22, Garcia heaved a prayer to Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery was covered and had the ball knocked away, but Sanders was trailing the play and snatched the deflection out of the air just before the ball hit the turf. The result was a 52-yard gain and a first down at the Commodore 22. After a timeout, Garcia took the shotgun snap and handed off to Lattimore. Lattimore burst through a hole on the left side and scampered easily toward the end zone for the 21-3 lead.

Clowney strikes again

The Gamecocks appeared to take a 28-3 lead on a touchdown pass to Jeffery, but after an official review, the play was overturned. Jay Wooten missed a 46-yard field goal, but once again Vanderbilt went nowhere. On the first play after the change of possession, Clowney hurdled the running back and stripped Vanderbilt's Larry Smith. Quin Smith recovered the fumble for South Carolina, and more critically for Vanderbilt, Larry Smith was lost for the game after he was injured diving for the ball. Without its starting quarterback, Vanderbilt's already overwhelmed offense had no hope left to move the ball.

[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]

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