COLUMBIA -- Back down to earth.
"We got our tails beat," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Any questions?"
South Carolina's ascent into the nation's Top 10 was sledgehammer-crushed over the head Saturday, the No. 6 Gamecocks stunned 17-6 by Vanderbilt, a program they or anybody else have had no trouble beating with regularity over the years. But as was quickly proven, history didn't matter -- Vanderbilt showed up, scored the only points it needed in the first quarter and completely shut down the Gamecocks' offense.
The laundry list of reasons was extensive, almost as long as the list of incredulous questions pitched afterward. The loss came after:
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• USC outgained Vandy, 282 to 269 yards.
• The Commodores did it without any huge contribution from their best player, wideout Earl Bennett.
• Not having any lucky bounces to blame it on -- Vandy was the superior team.
The only ones who didn't seem shocked were the Gamecocks. Several said they didn't overlook Vanderbilt, despite the Commodores coming in 3-3 (1-3 SEC) and Spurrier owning a 14-0 lifetime record against them.
They got beat, plain and simple.
"We're just not playing well as a unit," quarterback Blake Mitchell said, bullied along with Chris Smelley into a seven-sack, three-interception day. "We're not going to win many more games playing the way we played today."
The Gamecocks (6-2, 3-2) remained in first place in the SEC East, thanks to Tennessee falling at Alabama and Florida beating Kentucky. With three conference games to go, USC's still in good position to claim the program's first SEC East championship, which would doubtless wipe away the sting of a loss to Vanderbilt.
But they've got to get past Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida to get there, and the stagnant offense USC displayed against the Commodores wasn't inspiring too much confidence.
"I've come to believe we only need to throw the ball 15-20 times," Spurrier said. "Maybe that's what we need to win."
It began on USC's first series, after the defense forced a punt. Smelley threw to the flat, looking for Dion Lecorn, but D.J. Moore played the underthrown ball perfectly for an interception.
The Gamecocks held the Commodores to a field goal but fumbled away their next possession. After Chris Culliver lost the kickoff return -- Cody Wells recovered, although the joy was short-lived -- Cory Boyd charged over left tackle.
The normally sure-handed tailback lost the handle and Ryan Hamilton recovered. Three plays later, Mackenzi Adams hit George Smith in the end zone.
The Commodores scored again just before the quarter ended and led 17-0. There wasn't any panicking on USC's sideline -- with three full quarters to go, there's wasn't any need to.
But the clock wore out and so did the hope, every USC drive ending in futility.
"Seemed like things would happen at the right time for them and at the wrong time for us," center Web Brown said. "Something wrong would go wrong at the last second."
Two Ryan Succop field goals cut the score to 17-6 at the half, the Gamecocks regretting an illegal substitution penalty that wiped out a going-for-it fourth-and-two situation and forced the kick. No matter -- USC marched downfield in the second half, setting up at the Commodores' 13.
Smelley threw to the end zone, looking for Kenny McKinley. Moore again snared the underthrown ball for an interception.
"He wasn't throwing the ball, I guess, as accurately as he could," said Moore, a Spartanburg native who starred at Broome High School.
Although it was only the third quarter, that was as close as USC got for the duration. Mitchell was intercepted again, Smelley was throwing through his receiver's hands and the Commodores strolled out of Williams-Brice Stadium with the win.
"I'm not shocked at losing to Vanderbilt," Spurrier said. "We knew we're sort of living on the edge of being 6-1."
And it finally caught up to them. The Gamecocks became the 15th Top 10 team to lose this season and face the same problems they've tried to answer all season before playing at Tennessee next week -- except this time, they've got to try and solve them after a loss.
"I thought that was a crucial one, the interception in the end zone on first down ... Jiminy Christmas," Spurrier said. "Today it proved it didn't matter who played quarterback."
• USC's offensive line has a lot to learn • 3D