COLUMBIA — It was still a win, no matter how ugly it looked.
And South Carolina really needed a win.
The Gamecocks slid past Vanderbilt, 24-7, Saturday to break a two-game losing streak and energize their flagging hopes for a bowl game. USC (4-5, 3-4 SEC) needs to beat Appalachian State at home next week and then either win at Texas A&M on Nov. 16 or upset No. 4 Clemson on Nov. 30 to reach the postseason.
"We ran the ball well, we threw the ball well at times," coach Will Muschamp said. "But we did move the football. We should have had more points, but at the end of the day, we won."
A forgettable first quarter turned into the Gamecocks controlling the ball with a sustained rushing attack. Running backs Tavien Feaster (who was shaken up in the first quarter but returned), Deshaun Fenwick and Kevin Harris sliced the Commodores’ defense to keep the heat off quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
Vanderbilt scored the game’s first touchdown (helped by two USC penalties) but the Gamecocks’ defense chained the Commodores for the final three quarters. An interception from Summerville native R.J. Roderick set up a fourth-quarter USC drive, and Parker White connected on a 22-yard field goal for the elusive two-score lead.
Bryan Edwards caught the back-breaking touchdown with 6:39 to go.
What went right
The Gamecocks needed to run against the worst rushing defense in the league and did so, even when Feaster took a sustained seat in the first half. Fenwick, Harris and Dakereon Joyner took turns toting the ball for a combined 205 yards.
"(The plan this week was to) definitely to get me the ball," Joyner said. "I think I played well, I think my line opened up a lot of opportunities."
Vanderbilt had 95 yards in the first quarter and 94 over the final three. The Commodores were down to third-string quarterback Deuce Wallace after starter Mo Hasan was ruled out with a concussion from two weeks ago and backup Riley Neal was injured in the first quarter.
Also without top receiver Kalija Lipscomb, the Commodores (2-6, 1-4) couldn’t do anything against a USC defense that calmed down after the first drive.
The Gamecocks' offense was 9 of 15 on third down. Edwards, adding more numbers to his magnificent career, tied a school record with 14 catches and posted a personal-best 139 yards, plus a personal-best 53 punt return yards.
What went wrong
Cornerback Israel Mukuamu, the national defensive player of the week just three weeks ago, was nearly solely responsible for Vanderbilt’s only score. He committed two penalties on the Commodores’ first drive, each on third down, and then a miscommunication in the backfield led to Cam Johnson roasting USC’s Jaycee Horn for a wide-open touchdown.
The Gamecocks were mistake-prone all night. They had 11 penalties for 94 yards.
USC had two first downs at the Vanderbilt 7-yard line and scored three points. Mon Denson also fumbled at the Vandy 9.
Receiver Shi Smith did not dress with a hamstring injury. Muschamp thinks he'll be back next week. Tight end Nick Muse injured his knee in the first quarter and did not return.
Receiver Josh Vann broke a bone in his hand and is already wearing a cast.
The Gamecocks host Appalachian State at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9.