With its most highly anticipated season in history laying flat on its back at halftime and its starting quarterback on the sideline with his arm in a sling, South Carolina put the game on the outsized shoulders of Mike Davis.
The sophomore running back responded, powering the No. 12 Gamecocks to a 28-25, come-from-behind win against UCF in front of 47,605 fans at Bright House Networks Stadium.
While the Gamecocks (3-1) escaped a classic trap game — on the road against a little-known but capable American Athletic Conference team — they left central Florida with plenty of questions. The most pressing is: When will starting quarterback Connor Shaw return to the field?
“Hopefully, in two weeks he’ll be back and ready to go,” coach Steve Spurrier said.
Shaw, a senior on pace for his best season, suffered a right shoulder sprain when he was hit by UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer, forcing a fumble that ended South Carolina’s first drive. Later, backup tailback Brandon Wilds left with a sprained left elbow.
By that time, though, the Gamecocks needed only one back — Davis. South Carolina, which was ranked a program-high No. 6 in the preseason, trailed 10-0 after a first half in which Davis had five carries for 17 yards, but the Gamecocks took the ball to start the second half and went from their usual shotgun-base offense to the I-formation.
The result: 21 carries, 150 yards and three touchdowns from Davis in the second half. His 167 total yards were a career high.
“Thank the Lord you have Mike Davis on your team,” said quarterback Dylan Thompson, who was 15-of-32 for 261 yards, no touchdowns and an interception after replacing Shaw. “You can just turn around and hand it to him, and he can go for 20, 30, 40 yards and do it again and do it again. A player as good as he is we just wanted to feed him in the second half. We see what happened.”
After throwing the ball 24 times and rushing it 11 in the first half, the Gamecocks ran it 35 times and threw it 10 in the second half.
“We had to try something different. We weren’t hitting the zone read,” Spurrier said. “They had a good scheme to get the quarterback and the running back, so those plays didn’t go anywhere. So (offensive line coach Shawn) Elliott just said, ‘Coach, let’s get in the I right and I left and play the way we used to play 20 years ago. Just run straight at them and see if that would work and, fortunately, it did.”
Davis, who notched his third 100-yard rushing game of the season and is averaging 127 yards per game, speculated he would have had a better day if not for a cold he blamed on his roommates keeping the air conditioner too low this week.
“I guess I showed up the second half,” he said. “My teammates count on me.”
The Knights (3-1) were coming off an upset win against Penn State and hadn’t trailed this season until Thompson scored on a 2-yard run with 3:58 left in the third quarter to put South Carolina ahead 14-10.
“They did (in the second half) what I thought they were going to do earlier in the game, run right at us,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “Give their running back credit. I think he’s a great running back, and he made a lot of people miss tackles. We have people in the huddle who have to lock up and make tackles, and they didn’t do it.”
South Carolina would pull away to a 28-10 lead, but Davis fumbled at the goal line and UCF hit a 79-yard pass, its second 70-plus yard play of the fourth quarter, to set up a short score and close the gap to 28-25 with 1:54 remaining.
“When it went 28-10, I said, ‘Man, I am really proud of this team we’ve got here then we got back to being the careless Gamecocks, the stupid Gamecocks,” Spurrier said. “I told Dylan if I had (darn), dadgum sense, I would have just taken a knee to prevent something stupid like (the last big pass play). Obviously, we don’t know what the heck we are doing when we have a big lead. Could have lost the Vandy game, could have lost this one. Somebody up top is looking out for the Gamecocks right now because, with our mental decisions that we are making, we easily could have lost.”
UCF: S.Johnson 1 run (Moffitt kick), 10:05.
UCF: FG Moffitt 27, 4:26.
USC: Davis 53 run (Fry kick), 13:51.
USC: Thompson 2 run (Fry kick), 3:58.
USC: Davis 13 run (Fry kick), 14:02.
USC: Davis 13 run (Fry kick), 10:31.
UCF: Hall 73 pass from Bortles (Worton pass from Bortles), 9:48.
UCF: Hall 7 pass from Bortles (Moffitt kick), 1:54.
|Time of Possession||30:49||29:11|
RUSHING: South Carolina, Davis 26-167, Wilds 5-31, Shaw 4-30, Ellington 1-2, Carson 1-0, Thompson 6-0, Team 3-(minus 5). UCF, S. Johnson 16-64, Bortles 9-5.
PASSING: South Carolina, Thompson 15-32-1-261, Shaw 1-2-0-4. UCF, Bortles 25-36-2-358, Godfrey 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Byrd 5-74, Ellington 4-88, Anderson 2-34, Davis 2-11, Adams 1-44, Owens 1-8, Jones 1-6. UCF, Hall 8-142, S.Johnson 4-41, Perriman 3-109, Godfrey 3-18, Tukes 2-21, Reese 2-9, Miller 1-9, Stanback 1-7, Worton 1-2.