S. Carolina Best Start Since 1984
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ South Carolina, and its fans, can now breathe much easier.
Ignored in 1996 despite being eligible for a bowl, the Gamecocks took a big step toward ensuring its first postseason trip since 1994 by beating Vanderbilt 30-14 on Saturday.
The victory gives South Carolina (7-1, 5-1) its best start since going 9-0 in 1984.
``I think with seven wins that we’ll go to a bowl,″ coach Lou Holtz said.
His Gamecocks, whose ranking improved one spot to No. 17, now are in control of which bowl berth they receive. The team that couldn’t win a game last season and had lost 21 straight games coming into this season now has a half-game lead over Florida in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
But Holtz said his Gamecocks must start playing even better.
``We have to get better before our next three games against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson. I’ve backed off in practice because of injuries, and the team is tired. But we’re going to have to practice harder to get ready for these next three games. A 7-1 team should be more balanced than we are. We’re in unchartered territory,″ Holtz said.
South Carolina returned to some familiar ground Saturday by ending a two-game losing skid to Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-5), a team the Gamecocks had beaten five straight times previously.
Andrew Pinnock ran for two touchdowns and a career-high 135 yards on 24 carries, while Derek Watson added another while carrying 19 times for 128 yards despite playing with flu-like symptoms.
South Carolina rolled up 490 yards offense in controlling the clock for more than 37 minutes. It was the first time South Carolina has had two running backs top 100 yards in the same game since 1996 with Duce Staley and Troy Hambrick.
``It feels great,″ Pinnock said. ``It’s the way it’s supposed to be. We have two different running styles. It should be expected.″
But the Gamecocks needed help just before halftime from a fake field goal they had never practiced before to break open the game.
Vanderbilt declined a holding penalty on third-and-10 that would have backed up the Gamecocks. Holder Kevin Sides, who started at quarterback once last season, tossed a 10-yard pass to Rod Trafford for first-and-goal at the Vandy 5. Pinnock scored on the next play on a 5-yard run for a 17-7 lead.
Coach Woody Widenhofer had thought his Commodores were more prepared than they looked.
``I’d like to apologize. Sometimes it looked like we weren’t being coached. This is one of the most disappointing losses for me as a coach,″ said Widenhofer, now 3-26 in SEC games.
Watson padded the lead on opening possession of the third quarter when he broke loose for a 34-yard TD up the right sideline.
Vanderbilt, which started the season wanting to do exactly what South Carolina has done, now hasn’t had a winning record since 1982. The Commodores did manage to score its second passing TD against the Gamecocks when Greg Zolman hit Dan Stricker with a 35-yarder on the opening drive. But they killed their would-be rally with all three turnovers in the final 10 minutes.
``The defense gave us a chance at the end of the game with a pick,″ Zolman said. ``We just didn’t come through for them. It’s a team thing. We have to play almost perfectly to beat some of these SEC teams.″