Jake Bentley was the one who scampered into the end zone in the fourth quarter for South Carolina’s game-winning score Saturday against Ole Miss.
But it was Mon Denson who set up the crucial touchdown, bursting for a 69-yard run that brought the Gamecocks to the four-yard line and exceeded his career best for yards in a single game in one fell swoop.
And it was almost a touchdown, but the unfamiliar environment of Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium threw the redshirt junior running back slightly.
“Once I broke through, I looked up,” Denson said. “I thought we were back in (Williams-Brice) where we’ve got two JumboTrons. I thought I could see who was behind me, but I guess I couldn’t.”
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Despite the lack of a TD, Denson still posted a career day, collecting 102 yards on 12 carries to lead all rushers for Carolina. He did so after injuries decimated USC’s running back corps, with the usual 1-2 combo of Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams going down in the first half.
Without them, Denson and junior A.J. Turner were left to pick up the slack, and it was Denson who took the lead despite entering the day with by far the fewest yards of the quartet. When an ESPN reporter asked Will Muschamp how a fourth-string running back was able to come in and make such an impact, he corrected her.
“In our league, you’re not going to make it with one or two (running backs). ... You take too many hard hits, it’s no different than the NFL,” Muschamp said. “You’re going to get hit a lot, and you gotta be able to sustain and have guys that can step in and play on a high level. They asked me about our fourth-string running back. I said, ‘We ain’t got a fourth-string running back. They’re all starters to me. Mon’s a starter to me.’ ”
Nagging injuries throughout the first half of the season, however, meant that fans didn’t see much of Denson prior to Saturday. His time off the field made his dominance against the Rebels even sweeter, he said.
“It felt great. I love being out there and trying to take advantage of every chance I get carrying the ball,” Denson said.
After putting up 30 yards against Tennessee last week all in one drive to set up the game-winning field goal and then Saturday’s performance, Denson might be starting to develop a reputation as the guy South Carolina looks to late in games to close things out. He pushed aside such labels though.
“In football, you’re going to have injuries. People go down,” Denson said. “Just gotta be ready to step up, next man up, get on in there and contribute to the team.”
What really made Saturday especially important to Denson was the shirt he was wearing underneath his uniform, honoring his grandfather, Ricky Lovejoy. Lovejoy died this past February in a trucking accident.
“I wanted to make sure I had him with me this game, so I decided to wear it this game,” Denson said. “I’ve been meaning to wear it all season, but I’ve been battling injuries. I just remembered to wear it this game. I guess he was with me this game.”