NASHVILLE, TENN. -- Minutes before Saturday night's kickoff at Vanderbilt, South Carolina announced Gamecocks junior linebacker Rodney Paulk had been suspended for the first half because of a helmet-to-helmet hit last week at Kentucky.

A release issued by USC's sports information department said SEC commissioner Mike Slive "reviewed game tapes and conferred with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and athletics director Eric Hyman. The commissioner concluded this was necessary to help ensure player safety."

Paulk, a Columbia native, and Josh Dickerson have split time at middle linebacker this season.

Coincidental or intentional, the decision comes as the NFL is embroiled in controversy about changing its punishment policies for exceptionally violent hits. Previously, it fined players, but it is now considering suspensions in addition to fines.

Paulk's hit came on Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb on a failed two-point conversion attempt late in the Wildcats' 31-28 win.

South Carolina learned earlier in the week it would be without Paulk for the first half.

Injury report

South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore dressed and went through warm-ups without a limp, but he did not play in the game.

Lattimore, who sprained his left ankle early in the second half at Kentucky, improved dramatically during the week. Coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday evening on his radio show that Lattimore, who has 12 touchdowns this season, would "probably play."

Sophomore Kenny Miles started in Lattimore's place. Miles, who led USC in rushing a year ago, had 10 carries for 23 yards in the first half. Senior Brian Maddox replaced Miles just before the half as the offense looked for a spark.

It was obvious the Gamecocks missed Lattimore's yard-gaining ability and his versatility as a receiver out of the backfield.

Defensive tackle Melvin Ingram broke a bone in his left hand, but he returned to the game.

Palmetto ties

There are plenty of connections for Vanderbilt's coaching staff to the state of South Carolina.

Vandy head coach Robbie Caldwell, nearly hired a couple of times by USC, is from Pageland. He worked at Furman with former Commodores coach Bobby Johnson.

Additionally, offensive coordinator Jimmy Kiser is from Rock Hill. Running backs assistant Des Kitchings is from Wagener. Tight ends coach Ted Cain is from Aiken. All three of those assistants went to Furman.

USC athletic director Eric Hyman coached with Caldwell at Furman in the 1970s and '80s. He helped recruited Kiser, he said.

Sparse crowd

Despite it being homecoming at Vanderbilt, the 33,425 fans on hand represented the smallest crowd to see the Gamecocks play since Oct. 21, 2000, when 33,369 fans watched the USC-Vandy game at Vanderbilt Stadium.