On paper, South Carolina beat Vanderbilt, 13-10, Thursday night in Nashville.
On paper, it looks like a game that was close but boring. On paper, it’s not impressive that South Carolina beat a Vanderbilt team that won only four games last season — against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.
The reality of the situation is that the Gamecocks and Commodores created considerable drama on Thursday night, and though it may not seem like it, it was a huge win for South Carolina.
This was Will Muschamp’s first outing as head coach of the Gamecocks. No matter the opponent, it’s vital for a head coach to establish a positive tone to start an era — not just a season. A road SEC game magnifies the importance of the accomplishment.
If you’re not convinced, consider this: South Carolina was 1-7 against SEC opponents in 2015, and that win came against Vanderbilt. Losing to Vandy this time around would have been a gut punch to start the Muschamp era.
Perception is often everything in college football, especially in vital moments like the beginning of a coaching regime. Sure, it’s not a win South Carolina fans will be talking about to their grandkids years from now, but there’s something to be said about starting off on the right foot.
And that’s not to say the game wasn’t exciting.
South Carolina was actually trailing Vanderbilt, 10-3, about halfway through the fourth quarter when the Gamecocks called a beautiful jet sweep play that got wide receiver Deebo Samuel on the edge and into the end zone thanks to some good blocking, vision and fancy footwork:
Later on in the quarter, South Carolina dodged a huge bullet when Vanderbilt kicker Tommy Openshaw missed the go-ahead field goal with just under four minutes remaining.
The Gamecocks got the ball back and with 41 seconds to go, it was Elliott Fry’s time to shine. From 55 yards out with the clock dwindling, he nailed the ball through the uprights and ultimately got South Carolina the win.
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 2, 2016
Muschamp commented on the endgame sequence:
“Given the situation on 3rd and 6, I thought they’d call a timeout to save some time at the end of the game, but they didn’t and we were able to milk the time down and got exactly the look we wanted knowing that we would go out there with [Vanderbilt] having one timeout remaining with about 38 to 42 seconds in the game to play,” Muschamp said after the game. “I had total confidence that he was going to hit the thing. [Fry] is really good, he has been a good kicker for a long time. We’re going to have to win some games like this. That is kind of our m.o. right now.”
Basically, Muschamp boiled down South Carolina’s first game to this: “A win’s a win,”
It doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. On paper, all that matters is that South Carolina is 1-0 to start out the Muschamp era. That’s a big deal.