NASHVILLE — The Vanderbilt Commodores lost four Southeastern Conference football games by a touchdown or less last season under energetic coach James Franklin.
They opened up Franklin's second season Thursday night with yet another.
Behind a dominating fourth quarter, the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks rallied for a 17-13 triumph in front of 38,393 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium and a national cable audience on ESPN.
Running back Marcus Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw added 92 for the Gamecocks, who outgained the hosts 115-17 in the final 15 minutes.
"We had an opportunity to get a signature win here, and we didn't get it done," Franklin said.
The Gamecocks, who are coming off the first 11-win season in program history, won their ninth straight game over an SEC East foe despite throwing for just 67 yards.
Shaw was knocked out of the game with a bruised right shoulder less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter. He came back with six minutes left in the third quarter and two possessions later engineered a nine-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with Lattimore's go-ahead score from a yard out with 11:25 left in the game.
Vanderbilt's last gasp was a fourth-and-7 pass from Jordan Rodgers to Jordan Matthews that was broken up by D.J. Swearinger at the South Carolina 35-yard line with 1:47 remaining.
"We didn't do much at all — maybe one of the worst passing nights we have ever had," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It was a gutsy performance by Connor Shaw. We couldn't hit much passing, so we had to run, get a touchdown or two and let our defense play. Fortunately our defense held them to 13.
"Man, I hope we can play a whole lot better offensively next week."
South Carolina turned the ball over twice on its first four plays from scrimmage, but Vanderbilt couldn't capitalize. The Commodores suffered disaster on their third possession when a third-and-goal throwback pass from Rodgers was sniffed out by Gamecocks linebacker Shaq Wilson, who had a 37-yard return to Vanderbilt's 49-yard line.
Shaw kept for 20 yards on the ensuing play for his team's initial first down, and then Lattimore bolted 29 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 South Carolina lead with 4:55 left in the opening quarter.
"We had opportunities early in the game to where we should have been up 10-0," Franklin said. "We started the game with momentum, and it could have been a completely different game."
A 20-yard Adam Yates field goal at the 11:44 mark of the second quarter put South Carolina up 10-0, but Vanderbilt struck moments later when Rodgers threw to Matthews near midfield. Gamecocks safety Brison Williams tried to make the big hit but whiffed, enabling Matthews to break free for a 78-yard touchdown that pulled the Commodores within 10-7.
Vanderbilt then forced a three-and-out and used a 32-yard completion from Rodgers to Josh Grady to set up Carey Spear's 25-yard field goal that forged a 10-10 tie. Spear connected again from 44 yards out at the 6:02 mark of the third quarter to give the Commodores their only lead at 13-10.
The Commodores were hoping to defeat a top-10 team at Vanderbilt Stadium for the first time since a 24-10 triumph over No. 8 Florida in 1974.
"It was a great atmosphere, and I think it was a really good picture and vision of what Vanderbilt can be," Franklin said. "As long as everybody pulls together and rallies together, we can really build something special here."
Touted Vanderbilt freshman tailback Brian Kimbrow had two carries for 5 yards. ... Former Baylor School lineman Barrett Gouger dressed out (No. 56) for the Commodores but did not play. ... Spurrier is now 22-1 in season-opening games, with his only loss occurring with Duke in 1989. ... Before the game, Vanderbilt continued its tradition of having its freshman class — about 1,600 students — run across the field.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...