‘Respect that’: What Vanderbilt said about USC’s rallying moment

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Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea wasn’t surprised when South Carolina made a quarterback change late in the fourth quarter Saturday.

Down 20-14 with 1:36 left and no timeouts, USC coach Shane Beamer brought in Zeb Noland in place of Luke Doty for the game’s final drive. Noland was a graduate assistant for the Gamecocks just a few months ago and joined the roster in August.

The former Iowa State and North Dakota State QB led the Gamecocks on a game-winning drive and hit Xavier Legette on a 9-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left to hand Vanderbilt a 21-20 loss at Williams-Brice Stadium.

It was Vanderbilt’s 16th straight Southeastern Conference loss.

“I think he was doing what he felt like he needed to do to win the game throwing,” Lea said of USC’s decision. “I want to be complimentary of South Carolina and coach (Shane) Beamer. They fought, and that’s a character win for them.

“We’ve been on the other side of that one too this year, and they should be proud of that effort. I was impressed with the final drive. I think what I’m going to do is look at more of the things that we can do to be better rather than the plays that were made on offense. But I respect the way they finished the game and he certainly did a nice job coming in, Zeb did, at the end there and doing what it took to win. Respect that.”

The loss was heartbreaking for the Commodores, who have wins over Colorado State and winless Connecticut. Vanderbilt had a couple of chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

After Doty’s second interception, Vandy drove to the USC 10 and was faced with a fourth-and-five. Lea opted for the 25-yard field goal instead of going for it and possibly ending the game.

Lea said the Commodores would have likely gone for it — if it was fourth-and-1. But with USC out of timeouts, he said he thought it would be better to try and make the Gamecocks drive the length of the field.

On that game-winning drive, Vanderbilt only rushed three guys and dropped the rest in coverage. The Gamecocks were able to get big chunks of yardage and move the ball easily down the field.

“Obviously they were able to get some chunks, which certainly we’ll go back and look at that and say, ‘How do we how do we generate more pressure?’ The chunks kill you in those situations,” Lea said. “You want to make them drive it methodically and use up all the clock and try to heave it up at the end out of desperation. We weren’t able to do that. I think we’re gonna see breakdowns in coverage.

“I think we’re gonna see players that need to be tackled inbounds that were able to get out of bounds. We just didn’t play well enough to the finish. But as far as the strategy goes, the goal was to try to defend both out cuts on both sides and to force the ball inside and underneath so that we can tackle and keep the clock running. The clock was our advantage there and we weren’t able to do that.”

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