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September 14, 2013
Vanderbilt's football team has learned the perils of starting slow this season, and it's learned them the hard way. The Commodores have looked sluggish out of the gate every game this season, mustering just three total first quarter points in three contests. Against No. 13 South Carolina on Saturday, falling behind early cost them the game, just as it had two weeks earlier against Ole Miss.
"In the first half I didn't think we executed well. I didn't think we played with passion that we have played with for the last couple years," said Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin after the game. "I thought we got dominated up front."
Vanderbilt falls to 1-2 with the 35-25 loss and is still searching for answers to its early-game woes. Franklin blamed himself for his team's inability to compete with South Carolina in the first half, when the Gamecocks took a commanding 28-0 lead on their first four drives.
"We all got to make up our mind that it's important to us and get it done," Franklin said. "We've talked about it. We've done different things to change practice up and get it done. We're not doing it, so it's on me.
"I'm going to have to watch the film and see. But it's on me because it's been for two games, if not three, that we've started out not playing well."
Franklin was quick to give South Carolina's offense credit, though. The Gamecocks piled up 579 yards of total offense and possessed the ball for just over 37 minutes. Franklin said he was especially impressed with South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns and added 19 carries for 85 yards on the ground.
"You can say a lot of things - that throw to Ellington over his shoulder is in perfect position," Franklin said. "He doesn't break stride or anything.
"The touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, he (Shaw) throws it right off the back of the outside linebacker and right in front of the middle linebacker and in front of the safety in a window about that big to make a play," said Franklin, gesturing with his hands. "I thought he played as good as a first half as I've seen."
Franklin said his coaching staff emphasized putting pressure on Shaw, who improved to 12-0 as a starter in Williams-Brice Stadium with the win. But the Commodores weren't able to record so much as a quarterback hurry.
"We weren't getting to him," Franklin said. "He's standing there with no pressure in the pocket whatsoever. We never made him uncomfortable in the pocket."
Franklin added that when his defense did begin to pressure Shaw, the Gamecocks countered with screen and dump passes that crippled the Commodore defense. On the receiving end of those passes were running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, who each gained over 100 yards from scrimmage, and Bruce Ellington, who recorded his third-career 100-yard receiving game.
Sitting atop Franklin and Vanderbilt's agenda for the upcoming week will be duplicating their efforts in the second half, when the Commodores nearly pulled off an improbable comeback on foreign turf, as well as eliminating costly mistakes that kept them from achieving that goal.
"I thought the second half we played with passion, we played with emotion, and we flew around," Franklin said. "But I don't think we always played smart. I did think we made some plays in the second half and competed, and made it interesting, but we had two turnovers that can kill you."
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