(Thursday, September 4th)
Final Score: Vanderbilt 24, (24) South Carolina 17
Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - Jared Hawkins rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown and Chris Nickson threw a touchdown and ran for another, as Vanderbilt knocked off 24th-ranked South Carolina, 24-17, in the SEC opener for both schools.
Hawkins' and Nickson's parents likely weren't around to see the last time Vanderbilt knocked off a team as highly ranked as the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC), which occurred back in 1937.
On Thursday, Nickson managed the game with 90 yards through the air on 8-of-13 passing and he sneaked into the end zone from one yard out in the third quarter to give Vanderbilt (2-0, 1-0 SEC) the lead.
Chris Smelley completed 23-of-39 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions kept the momentum in Vanderbilt's favor. Mike Davis galloped for 80 yards and Jared Cook led all receivers with eight catches for 111 yards.
"We didn't execute very well and the interceptions hurt," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. "There is no question about it. We had a lot of crucial turnovers and they just beat us. They were better than us tonight."
South Carolina got on the scoreboard first with a 19-yard connection between Smelley and Kenny McKinley. The touchdown drive was a short one spurred by Darian Stewart's fumble.
The Commodores cut the deficit to 7-3 on Bryant Hahnfeldt's 19-yard chip shot with 4:32 remaining in the first half. The Gamecocks responded with a 41-yard boot from Ryan Succop as the half expired.
Vanderbilt fired up its home crowd with an offensive explosion in the third quarter. A fumbled punt led to a one-play strike from Nickson to Brandon Barden for a 31-yard touchdown and a 10-10 game. Nickson's one-yard sneak with 3:53 left in the third gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game.
Succop misfired from 48 yards away early in the fourth, and again Vanderbilt grabbed the momentum with an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. Hawkins finished it off with a 13-yard TD jaunt for a 24-10 lead.
"In the second half we played our best football," Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said. "When we had to get it done we got it done. We had some pretty tired puppies out there. Jared Hawkins ran hard, the offensive line blocked hard and the defensive line was relentless today. That's how you've got to win these kind of games. You've got to play hard the second half."
The Gamecocks tried to make the game interesting later in the fourth. A five- play, 55-yard march was capped by Smelley's five-yard strike to Freddie Brown with 7:39 to go.
Vanderbilt immediately punted and South Carolina moved the football to the Commodores 34-yard line before Smelley was sacked twice in succession -- four times overall on the night -- to force a punt.
The Commodores ran out the clock from there.
"It was neat to see all of the Vanderbilt fans getting fired up during the game," Hawkins said. "At times it felt like the stadium was shaking and our players fed off it. We want to continue to build momentum and we want our opponents to be scared to play us."
South Carolina outgained Vanderbilt, 325-225...The Commodores won the game despite converting just 2-of-10 third-down chances...Vanderbilt entered the contest with just a 4-21 mark in SEC openers...South Carolina still owns a 14-4 series edge, but Vandy has won two straight.
09/05 01:40:18 ET