South Carolina became bowl eligible Saturday afternoon with a 37-12 win against South Alabama, but befitting the season where nothing comes easy, it was not nearly as stress-free as the final score would suggest.
The Gamecocks (6-5) survived a Sun Belt opponent despite a season-worst five turnovers, 57 yards worth of penalties and three red-zone field goals.
“Man, we had some not very smart plays, but, anyway, it worked out that we won the game,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “We had enough big plays, and our defense played super.”
South Carolina gained 454 yards on 54 plays and 308 of those yards came on 13 plays, seven runs of 10 or more yards and six passes of 15 or more yards. South Alabama (6-5) opened the game with back-to-back, 14-play drives that gained 133 yards but gained 156 yards the rest of the game.
“With all the turnovers we had, we gave them a chance, but, fortunately, our defense really came to play,” Spurrier said. “It was a really good win for the Gamecocks. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. This is a pretty decent team. You are not going to run it down their throat and get an easy win.”
South Carolina didn’t put the game away until the fourth quarter with its longest drive of the season – a 96-yarder that appeared bogged down deep in its own territory before Dylan Thompson found Pharoh Cooper for a 73-yard gain on third-and-10. Two plays later, Cooper lined up in the wildcat quarterback formation and threw for a 7-yard score to Thompson, giving the senior his first collegiate touchdown reception on Senior Day and putting the Gamecocks ahead 30-9 with 10:20 left.
“It was sloppy,” Thompson said of the game. “Weird stuff was happening that never does. We tried to give it away about every way possible as an offense, but the defense played really well.”
At one point in the second quarter, six consecutive drives (three by each team) ended with turnovers. While the Gamecocks lost four fumbles and threw one interception, the Jaguars threw four interceptions and lost one fumble. Junior running back Mike Davis, who participated in Senior Day ceremonies before the game, fumbled on two of his first three touches and didn’t play in the second half.
“The fumbles got him sidelined,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t know if he could hold onto the ball today. We’ve got plenty of running backs, though.”
South Alabama has turned the ball over 13 times in its past three games.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Jaguars coach Joey Jones said. “That’s the biggest thing in the game is the turnovers. If you take care of the ball, you’ve got a shot, if you don’t, you don’t. It’s just the bottom line.”
The Gamecocks hadn’t forced five turnovers since last year’s game against Clemson. South Carolina also held South Alabama without a touchdown despite five trips by the Jaguars into the red zone.
“That was big for the game and our defense, our confidence,” linebacker Skai Moore said. “To have our backs against the wall and get big stops back-to-back-to-back was big for us.”
A home crowd of 78,201 watched South Carolina become bowl eligible for the 10th time in Spurrier’s 10 years. Up next is Clemson on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, where the Gamecocks will be looking to extend their school-record, five-game winning streak against the Tigers.
“It was a very good win for us to be bowl eligible, get number six and ensure that we're not going to have a losing record in the regular season,” Spurrier said. “We've ensured that.”
USC: FG Fry 42, 12:02.
SAla: FG Sunanon 20, 5:19.
USC: Jones 29 pass from Thompson (Fry kick), 2:41.
SAla: FG Sunanon 29, 11:18.
USC: B.Williams 21 interception return (Fry kick), 8:58.
SAla: FG Sunanon 20, :02.
USC: FG Fry 47, 7:21.
USC: FG Fry 24, 3:22.
USC: Thompson 7 pass from P.Cooper (Fry kick), 10:20.
USC: Da. Williams 14 run (Ard kick), 8:11.
SAla: FG Sunanon 31, 4:24.
|Time of Possession||35:48||24:12|
South Alabama, Houston 16-68, Timmons 17-62, Tyson 3-16, Fetner 1-1, Vaughn 4-(minus 6), Bridge 2-(minus 9), S.Smith 1-(minus 13).
South Carolina, Wilds 16-77, Da.Williams 12-65, P.Cooper 5-42, Davis 1-13, Byrd 1-9, Carson 1-3, Thompson 1-1.
South Alabama, Vaughn 15-23-4-151, Bridge 2-11-0-19.
South Carolina, Thompson 10-17-1-237, Mitch 0-2-0-0, P.Cooper 1-1-0-7.
South Alabama, S.Smith 5-82, Je.Jones 5-41, Saxton 2-22, Onkka 1-9, Broadnax 1-7, Garrett 1-7, Bowman 1-2, Houston 1-0.
South Carolina, P.Cooper 3-95, Jones 3-53, Byrd 2-48, Davis 2-41, Thompson 1-7.