College football has its first controversial finish of the season — the one that will dominate conversation around the water cooler Friday morning.
With just about two minutes remaining, fourth-and-7, South Carolina up 17-13 and Vanderbilt driving, Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers heaved the ball down the right sideline to Jordan Matthews. But as Matthews is about to catch it, South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger grabbed Matthews arm and the ball fell to the ground. Matthews threw his hands up in protests, Swearinger celebrated and the official, who was staring right at the play, made no move to call pass interference.
Obviously, this isn't the first or last time an official is going to miss a call. This one was blatant — on the replay — at full speed not sure anyone except Vanderbilt coach James Franklin saw the arm tug that altered Matthews ability to catch the ball.
Even if Vanderbilt had completed the pass -- or gotten the call -- they were still a ways away from the end zone with the clock ticking down.
Regardless of the play -- call or no-call -- neither one of these teams should feel good about the way this 17-13 SEC contest went down.
Vanderbilt escaped a possible blowout in the first half, entered the second half tied at 10 and even led 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Commodores allowed running back Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw, who played all of the second half with a busted shoulder, to dominate the ground game. Lattimore scored the winning touchdown on the first play of the quarter. Vanderbilt managed one first down the rest of the period while the South Carolina ground game chewed up the clock.
But South Carolina can't exactly be thrilled with its body of work either. Yes, it won on the road, but it blew several chances to distance itself from the Commodores.
The Gamecocks started their first drive of the game on their own 44-yard line after Vandy turned the ball over on downs. But Lattimore promptly fumbled the ball right back to the Commodores. On South Carolina's second possession, Shaw threw an interception.
After the Gamecocks finally scored, Shaw fumbled on the Vanderbilt 7. South Carolina recovered, but had to settle for a field goal. South Carolina fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which ultimately led to Vanderbilt's only touchdown.
Without the mistakes, South Carolina leaves the half up 14-3 -- at least.
The bright spot for the Gamecocks was, after the initial fumble, Lattimore went on to have 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, coach Steve Spurrier had a humorous take on his competition: "They don't have any slow dudes like they used to," he said.
But beyond the mistakes, which are all fixable, what should really worry South Carolina is its lack of offensive production when Shaw missed time with his shoulder injury. Shaw was injured late in the first half, he missed the first two series of the second half and backup Dylan Thompson led the Gamecocks to two consecutive three-and-outs.
Shaw was a gamer, he came back and made some great plays to help his team seal the win, but the extent of the damage done to his shoulder — basically because South Carolina had no other options — is unknown. If it's a serious or nagging injury, it could be something that affects Shaw, and ultimately South Carolina, for the rest of what will be a grueling season.
Yes, any win is a good win, but this one has to be difficult to feel good about.
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