COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson had no doubt how his Commodores would react, even if many others did, following last week’s disheartening loss to Georgia.
“It made us a little angry,” he said.
And Vanderbilt (4-3, 2-3 SEC) took it out on coach Steve Spurrier and No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday with a 17-6 victory.
The win was Vanderbilt’s first over Spurrier in 15 tries and the highest-ranked opponent it defeated in more than 70 years.
A week ago, the Commodores left their home stadium after Georgia’s 20-17 victory on a last-second field goal.
“I’m sure that people thought we’d fold in the second half here” after the Commodores led 17-0, Johnson said. “But we didn’t. We came back and played great, maybe better than in the first half.”
“That’s a misconception about Vanderbilt,” Johnson said. “They do everything they possibly can to try and win.”
This time, it was two touchdown passes from Mackenzi Adams, two interceptions by D.J. Moore and a defense that was so stout it didn’t make a difference which quarterback Spurrier called on.
The Gamecocks (6-2, 3-2) became the season’s latest Top 10 upset victim.
Little went right for South Carolina. The offense was held to 195 yards. Starter Chris Smelley threw two interceptions and Vanderbilt registered seven sacks.
“This should not be a shock to our team,” Spurrier said. “This should not be a shock. Hopefully, it will straighten them out.”
When it was over, Vanderbilt’s players rushed to the small section of Commodore fans, jumping and pumping their fists in celebration.
And why not? The Commodores hadn’t beaten a team ranked this highly since topping No. 6 LSU, 7-6, in 1937.
The win was extra sweet for Johnson, a Columbia native. On hand to watch were his friend and former boss at Furman, ex-North Carolina State coach Dick Sheridan, along with some of Johnson’s Eau Claire High coaches.
“I’m not going to be able to celebrate with them though,” Johnson said with a grin.
It was hard to imagine Vanderbilt celebrating much of anything this season after the Georgia loss. But Adams says the Commodores did what they usually do— return to work.
“I’ve been here three years and I’ve been through a lot of tough, close losses and most of the times, you find us on Sunday bouncing back,” Adams said.
Vanderbilt had lost seven straight to South Carolina since last winning in 1999.
Spurrier was 2-0 against the Commodores at Duke, then continued the winning at Florida (10-0) and South Carolina (2-0).
Earlier this season, Spurrier had run his streak over Kentucky to 15-0, but the Gamecocks couldn’t extend this one.
“I don’t think we were too concerned about individuals. Spurrier’s a great coach and he always has something for us,” Adams said.
Except for Saturday.
Smelly drove the Gamecocks 63 yards to the Vandy 13, but Moore stepped in front of a pass in the end zone to stop the third-quarter series.
Backup quarterback Blake Mitchell bounced a throw short on fourth-and-5. A series later, Mitchell’s pass was picked off by linebacker Jonathan Goff with 11:05 remaining.
South Carolina had another chance to close in when Adams fumbled with eight minutes left and Eric Norway recovered. Linebacker Marcus Bugs and defensive end Curtis Gatewood sacked Mitchell on consecutive downs to end the threat.
Smelly was 12-of-20 for 145 yards and two interceptions, while Mitchell was 3-of-8 for 19 yards.
“Today, it didn’t matter who played quarterback,” Spurrier said.
Moore got things going for Vanderbilt early on. His first interception set up Bryan Hahnfeldt’s 32-yard field goal.
One play later, Ryan Hamilton picked up Cory Boyd’s fumble to put the Commodores in position again. Adams found George Smith for a 22-yard touchdown.
Vanderbilt kept up the first-quarter pressure. Two-series later, Adams had runs of 19 and 4 yards, then closed the drive with his second TD pass, a 20-yard toss to Justin Wheeler.
The Commodores were up 17-0, stunning most of the 79,212 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt’s standout receiver, came in needing three catches to tie the SEC’s reception record of 208, held by Craig Yeast of Kentucky. Bennett, who caught 16 balls here against the Gamecocks two years ago, was held to two catches.
“Earl’s the happiest guy in that locker room right now,” Johnson said. “Because we won.”