Another furious third quarter rally couldn’t overcome another mistake-filled first half Saturday as South Carolina fell 26-23 to No. 22 Texas A&M in front of an announced crowd of 76,871 in Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks (3-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) fell to 0-5 all-time against Texas A&M while the Aggies improved to 5-2 and 3-1 on the season. South Carolina has now lost eight straight to ranked opponents and is 1-8 all-time under head coach Will Muschamp against ranked opponents.
“We need to get out of the gate faster, that’s for sure,” Muschamp said after his team fell behind 16-0.
That would require the Gamecocks offense operate much more efficiently. Texas A&M outgained South Carolina 458-299. South Carolina junior starting quarterback Jake Bentley returned to the lineup after missing last week’s game due to a knee injury and finished 17-of-35 for 223 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against the Aggies. He was plagued by dropped passes, two by Shi Smith and one each by Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and Kiel Pollard. The passes to Samuel and Edwards would have led to big gains in the first half.
“We had some wonderful opportunities out there, and we didn’t take advantage of them,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating.”
Texas A&M appeared to put the game away on a 3-yard touchdown run by Trayveon Williams to go ahead 26-16 with 1:36 remaining, but South Carolina went 75 yards in 48 seconds to pull back within one score on a 6-yard touchdown catch by Samuel that cut the Aggies lead to 26-23. The Gamecocks ensuing onside kick attempt failed.
“It’s been tough,” Bentley said of the first six games of the season. “It hasn’t been easy, but I have unbelievable teammates and they are there to support me all the way and I’m there to support them. There’s a long season ahead. We are going to keep fighting. No one on this team is going to get discouraged or point fingers or anything like that.”
Star of the game: Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger had a career-high seven catches for 145 yards and one touchdown. He converted a third-and-7 late in the fourth quarter with a 23-yard grab. “Sternberger hurt us in the middle,” Muschamp said.
Play of the game: The Gamecocks tied the game at 16-16 in the third quarter on a 33-yard scoring pass to Chavis Dawkins off a flea flicker. The trick play didn’t fool the Texas A&M defender, but Dawkins made a leaping grab at the goal line for his first catch of the season and first touchdown of his career. “I just went up and got it,” Dawkins said.
Stat of the game: South Carolina outscored Texas A&M 16-3 in the third quarter. In its last four games, it has outscored opponents 50-3 in the third quarter.
Keep away: Texas A&M dominated time of possession in the game. The Aggies held the ball for 41:29, compared to South Carolina’s 18:31. Texas A&M scored the winning touchdown after an 11-play, 78-yard drive that took 5:45 late in the fourth quarter. “I think we wore down a little bit,” Muschamp said. “We have to be able to stay on the field more offensively, but we have to rise up and make a play (defensively). It’s a team game.”
Injury update: South Carolina announced before the game that safety Nick Harvey would miss the game due to a concussion. Safety Steven Montac left the game due to a groin injury but isn’t expected to miss additional time. Safety Jamyest Williams left the field with less than two minutes remaining due to a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Keir Thomas left the game with an injury with 1:36 left.
Rough start: Bentley was booed several times in the first half. He finished the half 6-of-17 for 46 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. However, he responded by leading an 82-yard touchdown drive on South Carolina’s first possession of the second half. “That’s life,” Bentley said. “The way I’ve always been brought up is you can’t worry about outside issues. Other people are going to come at you each and every way, but you have to focus on what you believe in and surround yourself with great people. Having the support of my teammates and have them rally for me was great for me to see.”
Who: South Carolina vs. Tennessee
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, Time TBA
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC