Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason promised South Carolina a street fight here Saturday.
Eventually, the Gamecocks won by technical knockout. South Carolina (2-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) dominated the Commodores (2-2, 0-1 SEC) throughout the game but couldn’t land a knockout punch until late in the fourth quarter of a 37-14 victory.
“We heard about it, and yeah we took it personally,” South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said of Mason’s comments. “He called us out to come fight, and that’s what we did. We can play in a stadium, in a backyard, in the street. We ran for 270 yards so I think the o-linemen took it more personally than anybody else.”
The Gamecocks ran for 273 yards specifically, more than they have against an SEC opponent since Oct. 4, 2014 against Kentucky. In total, South Carolina out-gained the Commodores 534-284 on the way to their 10th straight win this series.
“We took it very personally,” offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “You want to try and call somebody out, you better know who you’re calling out before you call them out. That’s the bottom line. We took it to them.”
Mason wore a work shirt and name tag to his regular Tuesday press conference to illustrate the type of game he expected.
“Some of you guys don’t know who (former MAA fighter) Kimbo Slice is. Hopefully, you do,” Mason said Tuesday. “This isn’t a sanctioned fight. This a street fight. This is the SEC. It’s time to put on the hard hat, (grab) the lunch pail and get to work.”
Those comments were played over and over for the Gamecocks this week, including Saturday before they took the field.
“Every day since he said it, we heard it,” said Rico Dowdle, who pantomimed a boxing combination after scoring on a 2-yard run in the second quarter. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp “said he called us out. Once he said it, we came out with a street fight mentality. My score I did the thing. The guy wants to say something like that, just go attack them.”
It was the first time South Carolina has surpassed 500 yards in an SEC game since Nov. 1, 2014, against Tennessee.
“I feel sorry for (Mason) now,” Bailey said. “He probably wishes he could take that back. It was personal for us.”
Muschamp would not acknowledge using Mason’s comments as a motivational tool. When asked after the game about them, he said only, “We rushed for 273 yards.” However, his true feelings were clear the moment South Carolina pulled up to Vanderbilt Stadium with buses identified by signs in the front window that read “Street Fight.”
The Gamecocks averaged 7 yards per play and only three turnovers, eight penalties and a five-of-12 ratio on third down conversions kept the game from being a bigger blowout. Vanderbilt pulled within three at 17-14 on a 2-yard scoring reception by Kalija Lipscomb, but South Carolina closed the game on a 20-0 run from there.
“You could tell what type of day it was going to be before the game,” said defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who had two sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. “You could tell just going around looking at guys in the hotel. I could tell it was going to be a good day. (Mason) tried to show he was fired up about the game or whatever but the end result is the end result.”
South Carolina was playing for the first time since losing 41-17 to Georgia on Sept. 8. The Sept. 15 game against Marshall was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. In the two weeks between games, public opinion began to turn against the Gamecocks. South Carolina was favored to win at kickoff but the line fell throughout the week, and all four pickers on ESPN’s popular “College Gameday” crew predicted Saturday morning the Commodores would win.
“It’s one week,” Muschamp cautioned. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We have to continue to improve.”