NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ninth-ranked South Carolina escaped Nashville with a gritty 17-13 win in a game that could have gone either way in the fourth quarter.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin referred to the game as "our Super Bowl" earlier in the week. Vanderbilt fans bought in, with a near-sellout of 38,393 fans mostly clad in black despite off-and-on rainstorms earlier in the night and a Tennessee Titans' exhibition game just a few minutes down the road.
Dudley Field was rocking and rolling. The Commodores could feel the upset as they led late in the fourth quarter -- but South Carolina's backfield duo of Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw refused to let it happen.
South Carolina held on thanks to Lattimore's 23 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and Shaw's 14 attempts for 92 more even though he played through a painful shoulder contusion suffered late in the first half. As for Lattimore, it was his first game back from the knee injury that ended his season a year ago.
Vandy's Jordan Matthews gave the Gamecocks fits all evening, hauling in eight catches for 147 yards and a score. Matthews nearly made one more huge play on the final drive to give VU a final crack at a win, but couldn't come up with the catch as Carolina ran out the clock when Shaw converted a big run on 3rd and 5.
The game was tied 10-all at half and then Vanderbilt opened the second-half scoring with Carey Spear's 44-yard field goal. It gave the Commodores their first lead of the game with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
But the Gamecocks punched back as Shaw engineered a nine-play, 66-yard drive punctuated by Lattimore's 1-yard touchdown run. Adam Yates' point-after was good, and the Gamecocks led by four again.
The Commodores never could quite get in position to close. With just under two minutes left, VU had the ball 4th-and-seven from its 43, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers lofted a pass to Jordan Matthews deep down the right sideline. Matthews couldn't corral it as D.J. Swearinger appeared to grab his wrist as the ball arrived.
Thanks to two Gamecock turnovers in South Carolina territory, Vanderbilt held the ball nearly all of the first 10 minutes of the game. After one of them, Vandy marched to the Carolina 5-yeard line, where it had first-and-goal. But linebacker Shaq Wilson intercepted Jordan Rodgers' third-down screen pass and rumbled to the Vanderbilt 49.
From there, South Carolina made it look easy with a two-play scoring drive.
Shaw found all kinds of daylight on a keeper to the Vandy 29, and then Lattimore ran through big hole on the right side and eluded Vandy's secondary, giving Carolina a 7-0 lead with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Commodores on the next series, USC marched 66 yards in 14 plays and extended the lead to 10-0 on Adam Yates' 20-yard field goal.
Just when Carolina seemed to have knocked all the energy out of the rain-soaked crowd at Vanderbilt Stadium, Jordan Matthews found a seam in Carolina's zone and Rodgers hit him to complete a 78-yard scoring play to cut the lead to three.
After Carolina's three-and-out, Vandy drove deep into Gamecock territory and tied the game with Carey Spear's 25-yard field goal.
NOTES: Shaw (nine carries, 59 yards in the first half) left with about three minutes left in the half with a shoulder contusion, and was replaced by Dylan Thompson. ... Vanderbilt's Josh Grady's first career catch went for 32 yards, setting up Vandy's first-half field goal. ... Wilson's pick was the third of his career, but his first since 2009.