An Ugly Win is Still a Win
First off, how 'bout that score prediction? If I was a betting man......I'd most certainly have even less money than I do now, but I would have made out OK this week. Despite an incredibly frustrating start, Will Muschamp led the Gamecocks to their first road SEC victory since they beat Will Muschamp's Florida Gators in overtime in 2014, resulting in Florida parting ways with Will Muschamp a few days later. Both teams looked about how I expected (hence the spot-on prediction), exhibiting offenses with the potency of my 7th grade C-team and good performances on defense. The only advantage had by either team was the Gamecocks' specialist unit, and as predicted Elliott Fry and Sean Kelly made the difference in the game.
At the end of the day, Vandy proved without a shadow of a doubt that they are still Vandy, and getting excited about beating them shows how far the mighty have fallen. But this was a win that the Gamecocks had to have if they are going to make it to a bowl, and winning a conference game on the road gets them a little less than 17% of the way there. There's a lot of SEC teams that would love to be in the Gamecocks' shoes after this weekend (Mississippi State, Kentucky, Missouri, LSU, Auburn) and the East hasn't looked as winnable since 2010. Right now SC is the top team in the SEC standings and controls it's own destiny. This is more likely than not to change, and sooner rather than later, but considering where this team was at the end of 2015 you have to be pleased with what was on display Thursday night (or Friday morning for some....). The defense's improved physicality, tackling, and scheme was evident for all to see, and on offense the future looks bright with young playmakers McIlwain, Edwards, and Turner. The OL has to get better and play smarter (I think 4 different starters had penalties by the first few series), and the WRs have to catch the ball when it hits them in the hands. I think the coaches are good enough to get most of these issues corrected in the near-term, and recruiting will fix other problems in the long-term. Despite the ugliness of the play at times, you have to be grateful for the obvious improvement and, most of all, the win.
Teriyaki Chicken Wings
Just like last year, I'll be handing out wings to players most responsible for each victory. Hopefully this year we won't have a repeat of the Great Chicken Wing Famine of 2015.
Elliott Fry - 4 Wings
Tied a school record with the game-winning 55-yard field goal in the final minute of the game. Also generated the Gamecocks' first points of the game in the 3rd Quarter. Accounted for 7 points total in the game. Will likely become the all-time leading scorer in school history sometime around mid-season.
Bryan Edwards - 3 Wings
Became the 8th Gamecock and first freshman in school history to tally over 100-yards receiving in season opener (hat tip to 247sports.com). His 8 catches for 101-yards, including the acrobatic 33-yard reception below, have led to comparisons to Gamecock great and current Chicago Bear Alshon Jeffrey. He also had the key block on Deebo Samuel's 8-yard TD run.
Perry Orth - 1 Wing
Gave SC a chance to win, and would have had a much better stat line if his receivers hadn't dropped at least 4 balls.
Deebo Samuel - 1 Wing
Fumbled the first punt return which led to Vanderbilt points, but scored the first and only touchdown of the season so far.
Marquavius Lewis - 1 Wing
Racked up 7 total tackles and a QB hurry. I can't remember the last time a defensive lineman led the team in total tackles
Chaz Elder - 1 Wing
Led the defense with 6 solo tackles and tied Qua Lewis with 7 total tackles. Played physical and also had a pass break-up.
Sean Kelly - 1 Wing
Had 3 out of 7 punts downed within the 10-yard line.
Next week the Gamecocks head to Starkville for another SEC road game looking for their first 2-0 start since 2013. This one looks much more winnable after Mississippi State lost 21-20 on Saturday to South Alabama, a Sun Belt team that won 5 games last year. Check back later this week for a preview. Go Cocks.