Jake Bentley started for the first time in his career. South Carolina won a football game for the first time in a month. All in all, it was a positive, if not perfect, day at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks and their shiny new quarterback beat UMass 34-28 in front of an announced crowd of 73,428 that looked a lot more like 40,000 when the game ended. The win was the team’s first since Sept. 17, and pushed South Carolina’s record to 3-4. The Gamecocks have now matched last year’s win total.
“That was an excited locker room because we won, but it was also a locker room that knows a lot of corrections need to be made, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s a good thing that they recognize that there is improvement that needs to be made. We’re a work in progress.”
Bentley, who graduated early from Opelika (Ala.) High and enrolled at USC this summer, completed 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns as South Carolina posted a season-high in points and yards (395) against a Minutemen defense ranked No. 111 in the nation coming into the game. Bentley hadn’t played in a game until Saturday.
“He’s not afraid to stretch the field with the football, which is impressive for an 18-year-old,” South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst said. “I was very impressed with Jake’s composure and how he attacked the game today.”
Freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who started three games earlier this season, rotated into the game in short yardage and red zone situations. McIlwain finished with 17 rushing yards and no pass attempts.
“Brandon will continue to challenge (Bentley) every day, no different from any other position on our football team,” Muschamp said. “We will continue to build on today, and Brandon certainly will be involved in that.”
South Carolina led 34-14 after a 1-yard touchdown run by David Williams with 7:53 left in the third quarter but nearly blew that advantage.
“Obviously, we haven’t been in that position before,” Muschamp said of his team’s big lead, “and we obviously didn’t handle it very well.”
Much of the crowd filed out after Williams’ touchdown, leaving the stadium half full to watch South Carolina’s defense almost cough up that big lead. The Minutemen, who had the nation’s 123rd-ranked offense coming into the game, gained 389 yards, and UMass closed the game to 34-28 on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Ford to Adam Breneman with 4:32 left in the game.
“We just didn’t play very well defensively,” Muschamp said. “It was a lot of stuff we have repped and gone over, so I was a little frustrated with our performance defensively. We will go back and work, but it’s good to go back and work after a win.”
The Minutemen trailed just 27-14 and had had plenty of success offensively when they received the opening kickoff of the second half. UMass faced a fourth-and-1 on its first drive and ran the same Wildcat QB sweep play that had converted a fourth-and-1 in the first half, but South Carolina linebackers Bryson Allen-Williams and Larenz Bryant were ready and dumped running back Marquis Young for a 4-yard loss. Coupled with the Minutemen’s three first-half turnovers, it was one missed opportunity too many.
Star of the game: Sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel had a career-high eight catches for a career-high 106 yards. Hampered by hamstring injuries much of the season, Samuel had eight catches on the season before Saturday.
Play of the game: Bentley’s first career touchdown came on a beautiful 16-yard throw to K.C. Crosby, who dove to catch the ball in the end zone and put South Carolina ahead 20-7 with 7:18 left in the second quarter.
Stat of the game: South Carolina won the turnover battle 4-2. For the season, the Gamecocks are plus-three in turnover margin.
David Williams sighting: After getting two carries against Texas A&M and not playing at all against Georgia, it looked like junior running back David Williams was falling completely out of the running back rotation, but on Saturday he was back at the top of it. Making his second start of the season, Williams made an immediate impact with a 33-yard run and a 1-yard touchdown run in the first half. Williams, who had 110 rushing yards in the first six games, had 69 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. Rico Dowdle led South Carolina in rushing with 16 carries for 87 yards.
Return game: Rashad Fenton returned to the lineup after missing the Georgia game with an ankle injury and took over A.J. Turner’s job as the starting kickoff returner. (Turner didn’t play until the second half, but was not serving any sort of suspension, Muschamp said.) Turner went back to return a kickoff in the fourth quarter with Fenton suffering from a cramp. Chris Lammons got the nod at punt return for the Gamecocks. South Carolina has struggled mightily in that area, and those struggles continued Saturday as Lammons lost a fumbled punt in the fourth quarter.
Enemy territory: South Carolina won the field position battle decisively. Five of the Gamecocks’ first 15 drives started in UMass territory.
Who: Tennessee at South Carolina
When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: ESPN/ESPN2/SEC Network
How they scored
USC: Dowdle 1 run (Fry kick), 12:19
USC: Da.Williams 1 run (Fry kick), 8:58
UMASS: Breneman 14 pass from Ford (Caggiano kick), 14:53
USC: Crosby 16 pass from Bentley (pass failed), 7:18
USC: B.Edwards 24 pass from Bentley (Fry kick), 3:45
UMASS: J.Williams 74 pass from Ford (Caggiano kick), 3:22
USC: Da.Williams 1 run (Fry kick), 8:58
UMASS: Ford 8 run (Caggiano kick), 9:59
UMASS: Breneman 18 pass from Ford (Caggiano kick), 4:32
Time of Possession
RUSHING: UMass, Mar.Young 28-123, Lindsay 2-8, Isabella 4-6, Ally 1-4, Ford 2-1. South Carolina, Dowdle 16-87, Da.Williams 15-69, Samuel 2-31, McIlwain 5-17, (Team) 2-(minus 3), Bentley 4-(minus 7).
PASSING: UMass, Ford 20-42-2-247. South Carolina, Bentley 17-26-0-201.
RECEIVING: UMass, Breneman 9-94, Isabella 5-37, B.Davis 2-26, Robinson-Woodgett 2-12, J.Williams 1-74, Mar.Young 1-4. South Carolina, Samuel 8-106, B.Edwards 3-42, Crosby 1-16, Googer 1-13, Hurst 1-9, Dowdle 1-6, Dawkins 1-5, Da.Williams 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: UMass, Laurent 32.