NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores were close to a win and an opportunity to send a shot out across the college football world. It looked like the ‘Dores had No. 9 South Carolina right where they wanted them.
Instead, Thursday night's game turned out to be another frustrating loss for the Black and Gold.
For the better part of three quarters, Vanderbilt looked very much like the team many have predicted they would be this season, and an upset over Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks seemed like a reality.
Vandy's inability to make plays down the stretch on both offense and defense left the ‘Dores with a gut-wrenching 17-13 loss on opening night.
"We had opportunities early in the game – it should have been 10-0 to start the game with momentum – and it could have been a completely different game," said Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers had 214 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. The pick came in the first quarter on third and goal at the South Carolina 5 yard line.
Rodgers said the team needed to do more in the first and fourth quarters.
"We need to learn to play for four quarters. We had a good middle part of the game – 2nd and 3rd quarter – and just didn't get it done early. That's what we're going to have to do," Rodgers said.
There were several bright spots from the game. The defense was swarming all night, forcing two turnovers and knocking South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw out of the game at one point.
On offense, junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught eight passes for 147 yards and one touchdown.
"You can't just have a big game – that's not enough," said Matthews. "We've got to start getting wins. If not for us, for coach. I don't want to put him in the position where he has to come out in front of everybody and defend our losses for us. We need to do more for him and this school."
Vanderbilt had a chance to pull ahead with two minutes remaining in the game. Rodgers' pass on fourth down was on target to Matthews but South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger made contact. Fans, commentators and cameras caught the interference, but there was no whistle.
A completion wouldn't have given the ‘Dores a touchdown, but would have given them a fresh set of downs between the 30-35 yard lines - and kept their hopes of scoring alive.
Franklin said one blown call wasn't the difference in the game.
"You can sit here and make all types of excuses. You can say whatever you want. The reality is we had an opportunity to get a signature win here and we didn't get it done," said Franklin.
For Vandy, the effort was there but the execution at crunch time was lacking. The Commodores have told this story before, and quite frankly - they're sick of it.
"We're very close. It's the little things – the details – in football games," said safety Javon Marshall. "We're real close. We've just got to take that next step.
"Against a good team like South Carolina, you need to get up on them and take advantage of every chance they give you," said Rodgers.
"We're 0-1 this week. We've got an opportunity to erase this and move on next week," said Franklin.
Vanderbilt plays at Northwestern and then back in Nashville against Presbyterian before their next shot at a Top 10 team. They play at No. 6 Georgia in Athens on September 22.