South Carolina ran back into the win column under the lights Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks rushed for 224 yards in a 27-24, come-from-behind win over Tennessee in front of 80,164 fans. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp improved to 7-0 all-time against the Vols, and the Gamecocks improved to 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. Tennessee fell to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
“Coming into the game, coach told us that if we wanted to win the football game, we needed to run the ball,” said junior running back Rico Dowdle, who had a season-high 140 yards. “That’s just something that we focused on.”
South Carolina took its first lead with 5:52 left in the game on a 25-yard field goal by Parker White and then stopped Tennessee on fourth-and-10 from the USC 49-yard line with 1:08 remaining to seal the victory.
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“For the first time in a league game, we saw our backs making guys miss,” Muschamp said. “Our offensive line has been improved this year. I have been pleased with that. I thought for the first time in a league game, our backs consistently made guys miss, and that’s what we need to do to play winning football.”
In its last game, South Carolina ran the ball 18 times in a 26-23 loss to Texas A&M. On Saturday, the Gamecocks rushed 40 times and threw 16 passes.
“I just think we came out with the attitude that we needed to run the ball and dominate the line of scrimmage,” center Donell Stanley said. “Everybody was on the same page tonight. We worked a lot on the run game. We know what we can do in the run game, and we just need to keep on doing it.”
South Carolina is now 17-3 under Muschamp when it rushes for more than 100 yards in a game.
Star of the game: Dowdle lost his starting job for the first time this season but responded with his third 100-yard rushing game of the season, gaining a season-high 140 yards on 14 carries. Dowdle had 116 combined rushing yards in the three previous games.
Play of the game: Junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards made a career-best 73-yard reception in the third quarter that moved the ball from the USC 25 to the Tennessee 2-yard and set up the Gamecocks tying score three plays later. Edwards’ previous career-high was 44 yards. Until Saturday, Edwards had had more than 73 yards receiving in just one game.
Stat of the game: South Carolina entered the game second in the SEC in third down conversion defense, allowing opponents to convert 24.7 percent of the time, but Tennessee converted 11 of its 16 third down attempts. The Gamecocks gave up more third down conversions in the first half (five) than they had in any entire game this season.
Back on the field: Junior defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who missed the last five games due to an ankle injury, returned to the starting lineup Saturday night. Wonnum hadn’t played since the season-opener, when he was hurt against Coastal Carolina. Wonnum led South Carolina in sacks in 2017. He had his first sack of the 2018 season in the third quarter and had the fourth quarter sack that sealed the win.
New offensive starters: The Gamecocks had two new starters on offense as junior running back Ty’Son Williams started in place of Rico Dowdle for the first time this season. However, Dowdle got the bulk of the work in the first half, rushing 10 times for 94 yards before halftime, while Williams had five carries for 16 yards in the first 30 minutes. On the offensive line, true freshman Dylan Wonnum made the first start of his career, replacing Blake Camper at right tackle. Starting left tackle Dennis Daley was injured in the first half and replaced by Malik Young.
Shaking up secondary: True freshmen defensive backs Israel Mukuamu and R.J. Roderick played extensively in the first half. Mukuamu took snaps at cornerback and safety. On multiple plays, South Carolina had three true freshmen in the defensive backfield together with Mukuamu, Roderick and regular starter Jaycee Horn. Senior safety Steven Montac, who has started every game this season, did not start the second half. Veteran backup Javon Charleston also got time at safety in the second half. “We’re at the last stop (personnel wise), but those guys stepped in and did a nice job in critical situations,” Muschamp said.
Who: South Carolina vs. Ole Miss
When: Noon, Saturday, Nov. 3
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
TV: SEC Network