COLUMBIA — With South Carolina’s offense having its worst outing this season, the Gamecocks’ defense delivered its best performance in decades.
Led by defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, 12th-ranked South Carolina held Vanderbilt to just 77 yards on offense in a 21-3 victory Saturday night before 77,015 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Using mainly a four-man rush, the Gamecocks were able to generate consistent pressure on Vanderbilt, sacking Commodore quarterbacks six times.
Ingram, who scored a touchdown for the third time this season, led the charge with two sacks and one tackle for loss.
“He’s got my vote (for the Heisman Trophy),” running back Marcus Lattimore said of Ingram. “He’d look good with a Heisman. With all the big plays he’s making, he deserves it. He can play offense or defense.”
Clowney, the nation’s No. 1 recruit Gamecocks’ defense dominates a year ago, had his best game to date, recording two sacks and two forced fumbles, one of which led to Ingram’s fumble recovery in the end zone and the Gamecocks’ first points of the night.
The 77 yards the Gamecocks’ defense allowed was the fewest since USC gave up 66 yards to North Carolina State in 1987. The Gamecocks, who have struggled with their third-down defense, allowed the Commodores to convert on just one of 14 third downs.
“That was a super defensive game, no matter who we’re playing,” said South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier. “They played well, tackled well. Our defense came to play tonight. That was by far our best game of the year. Basically a shutout and really limited Vandy to not much at all. Obviously, our defense was the big reason we won the game.”
The offense, well, that was a different matter altogether.
The inconsistent play continued for quarterback quarterback Stephen Garcia, who threw for 228 yards but also had four interceptions.
Garcia was pulled in the fourth quarter and replaced by backup Connor Shaw, who was no more effective.
“I apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance,” Spurrier said. “But we won the game.
“Stephen had a tough night,” Spurrier said. “Our offense sputtered around most of the game, had a bunch of penalties after some big plays.”
Even Lattimore was human, rushing for just 77 yards on 20 attempts.
“Vandy was tough,” said Lattimore, who did score two touchdowns. “It was a tough game and tough yards.”
Trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, the Gamecocks got their fourth defensive touchdown of the year after Clowney sacked and forced Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith to fumble. Antonio Allen scooped up the fumble, ran 20 yards only to fumble at the 11-yard line. But Ingram was there for the recovery and a 7-3 lead.
“Melvin made a nice recovery in the end zone, got his hands on it, did it the way we coach it up,” Spurrier said.
Just before halftime, Lattimore turned a routine screen pass into a 52-yard touchdown, picking up a nice downfield block from former high school teammate Nick Jones.
“We wanted to get a field goal at least and they were playing a deep zone,” Lattimore said. “Nick, both of my linemen and Alshon made great blocks on that play.”
Lattimore added a 22-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to give the Gamecocks some breathing room.
South Carolina had a few more chances to build on their lead, but turnovers and penalties killed the drives.
“Really, really a poorly coached offense tonight,” Spurrier said.
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