Will Muschamp wanted to make sure his team’s first opportunity for optimism didn’t blow up in its face so he put mousetraps throughout South Carolina’s football facility this week.
“I wanted to let them know, ‘Don’t take the cheese,’ ” Muschamp said. “Everybody is patting you on the back and telling you how good you are, but … the same folks patting you on the back after a big win are the folks stabbing you in the back after a loss. That’s kind of the way it works in this deal.”
His players got the message, after they had a little fun.
“There were a bunch. You tried not to step on one,” place-kicker Elliott Fry said. “Most of them weren’t really set, but then some of the guys starting setting them … and throwing them at each other.”
The Gamecocks avoided any mousetrap injuries and avoided an upset at the hands of Missouri, beating the Tigers 31-21 in front of 73,817 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium. The result gave South Carolina its first three-game winning streak since September, 2014. The Gamecocks are now 5-4 and 3-4 in the SEC.
“Certainly pleased with how our guys have continued to fight and battle and scratch. We have formed ourselves into a pretty good football team because of that,” Muschamp said. “I have to credit our staff and our players. If you have a bunch of bad eggs in that locker room, you will not survive that (bad start). We had a bunch of guys that continued to work, continued to go after it, continued to try to improve. It’s 100 percent our players in my opinion as far as how they have responded.”
The Gamecocks gained a season-high 428 yards behind their standout freshman backfield of quarterback Jake Bentley and tailback Rico Dowdle. Bentley finished with 254 yards and two touchdowns on 22 of 28 passing, while Dowdle had 149 yards on 27 carries for his second consecutive 100-yard game.
The Gamecocks allowed the Tigers 465 yards, but led by 10 points for the final 7:35 of the game. South Carolina hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 30 points this season.
“We are by no means where we need to be, but we have certainly improved and I think everybody can see that and everybody can see the belief and the confidence the players have in some of the things we are doing,” Muschamp said. “We still have a long way to go. Let’s be realistic.”
Missouri looked ready to grab the game’s momentum in the third quarter after Fry missed a 46-yard field goal, and the Tigers responded by driving into South Carolina territory. However, after Missouri converted a fourth-and-1, Gamecocks cornerback Rashad Fenton intercepted a Drew Lock pass at the 2-yard line.
“It was a big play momentum-wise,” Tigers coach Barry Odom said.
South Carolina then put together a 98-yard touchdown drive to take a 28-21 lead with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
“When you are able to run it off your goal line, that’s demoralizing for a defense,” Muschamp said. “They got tired late in the game. We ran the ball extremely well late in the game.” The Gamecocks had 125 rushing yards in the second half.
Star of the game: Dowdle had another great game, but it was sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel who kept coming up with big plays at crucial times. Samuel had career highs with nine catches for 125 yards. On the Gamecocks’ 98-yard touchdown drive, he had catches of 22 and 25 yards.
“There are a lot of reps involved in (those catches),” Muschamp said. “It seems like, ‘Well, he just made a play.’ No, there are a lot of reps involved of where to throw the ball and where the receivers needs to play the ball.”
Play of the game: Dowdle got the first receiving touchdown of his career after a 17-yard pass from Bentley bounced off Missouri linebacker Eric Beisel’s back shoulder and into Dowdle’s arms. The score gave South Carolina a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Dowdle finished with three catches for a career-best 20 receiving yards.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks won the turnover battle 3-0 and are plus-nine in turnover margin for the season.
“We want to lead the SEC in turnovers,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “That’s our goal.”
New record holder: Senior place-kicker Elliott Fry broke Collin Mackie’s 26-year-old scoring record. Fry, who entered the game one point shy of the record (330), had fourth extra points and now has 333 for his career. “It was obviously pretty cool,” he said.
Special teams snafus: Neither team got a boost from its special teams. Missouri, in particular, was victimized by that phase of the game. The Tigers missed two field goals and kicked two kickoffs out of bounds. The Gamecocks lost field position on special teams throughout the game due to their inability or unwillingness to field punts.
Another ejection: Junior cornerback Chris Lammons hasn’t finished a game for South Carolina since Oct. 22 against UMass. Lammons was ejected for the second straight game Saturday after being called for targeting against Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Lock was sliding down when Lammons dove at him and made contact with the side of Lock’s helmet with the crown of his helmet. “Bad break, but it was the correct call,” Muschamp said. “When a quarterback is sliding, you have to pull off.” Lammons was ejected last week against Tennessee for punching an opponent. His most recent ejection also was the second straight week the Gamecocks have had a player ejected for targeting. Safety Chris Moody was called for targeting in the fourth quarter but the call was overturned on review. Safety D.J. Smith was ejected last week and missed the first half of the Missouri game due to that ejection.
Who: South Carolina at Florida
When: Nov. 12, Time TBA
Where: Steve Spurrier Field; Gainesville, Fla.
How the scored
SC: Samuel 6 run (Fry kick), 7:25
MIZ: Crockett 29 run (T.Adams kick), 12:55
SC: Dowdle 17 pass from Bentley (Fry kick), 8:39
MIZ: Witter 25 run (T.Adams kick), 6:01
SC: Crosby 6 pass from Bentley (Fry kick), 2:59
MIZ: Blanton 9 pass from Lock (T.Adams kick), 12:34
SC: Dowdle 20 run (Fry kick), 3:24
SC: FG Fry 24, 7:35
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Missouri, Crockett 13-82, Witter 11-80, Zanders 1-6, Lock 9-3, Augusta 1-2, Laurent 1-(minus 10). South Carolina, Dowdle 27-149, Da.Williams 4-24, Turner 6-8, Samuel 2-7, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Bentley 9-(minus 12).
PASSING: Missouri, Lock 23-40-2-302. South Carolina, Bentley 22-28-0-254.
RECEIVING: Missouri, Mason 8-88, J’.Moore 6-54, Blanton 4-42, Culkin 2-43, Floyd 1-37, Black 1-33, J.Johnson 1-5. South Carolina, Samuel 9-125, Edwards 4-47, Hurst 3-20, Dowdle 3-20, Dawkins 1-34, Crosby 1-6, Da.Williams 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Missouri, T.Adams 44, McCann 31. South Carolina, Fry 46.