Streakiness, of any kind, avoids these Gamecocks.
South Carolina beat Tennessee 27-24 on Saturday night under the lights in front of 80,614 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium, to continue what is in danger of becoming a monotonous march to mediocrity.
“That was an electric atmosphere,” said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp, who improved to 7-0 all-time against the Volunteers. “Our fans were starving for a night game, and they got one. We certainly entertained them.”
It was South Carolina’s week to win after all. They have traded out victories and defeats all season long. The Gamecocks opened the season with a win over Coastal Carolina. Then lost to Georgia. Then beat Vanderbilt. Then lost to Kentucky. Then beat Missouri. Then lost to Texas A&M. Then, Saturday night, beat Tennessee.
Left, right. Left, right. Win, loss. Win, loss. The tally so far is 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC.
Not since 1951 has South Carolina gone this many weeks in a row without a two-game streak of either variety. It speaks to a fundamental nature of Muschamp’s third team in Columbia — too flawed to string together a winning streak and too resilient to stay down long.
Saturday night it was resiliency’s turn. The Gamecocks trailed 14-3 with 2:11 left in the first half. They did not lead until Parker White hit a 25-yard field goal with 5:52 left in the game, and, after getting run over on third down all night (Tennessee converted 11-of-16 for the game), they made a fourth down stop at midfield to seal their victory.
“A win is a win, but we have been very good in one-score games around here,” Muschamp said. “Our guys understand in one-score games how to win. It certainly showed tonight.”
Tennessee fell to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
“This is a huge SEC win for us. It’s huge for our team,” said starting quarterback Jake Bentley, who was 11-of-16 for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception. “The resiliency our whole team showed these past couple weeks, and tonight is a testament to our coaches and the culture we have here. We focused on what we had to do and blocked out everything. It’s our job to come out here and win.”
They did that by running the ball 40 times for 224 yards and throwing it 16 times. It was the Gamecocks’ second-highest rushing output in an SEC game this year, and it came after running the ball just 18 times in their last outing.
“They were playing a lot of two high safeties, so they gave us the run box,” Muschamp said. “It was a lot more than we planned on. When they are giving you that much split safety, that led to some of our run game. They wanted to stay out of the big plays.”
Junior tailback Rico Dowdle didn’t start for the first time this season but responded with a season-high 140 yards on 14 carries.
“We didn’t change much. It was more of the attitude, knowing we had to run the football to win the game,” Dowdle said. “We have to come out and do it again next week. We have to come out with the same mindset next week and do it again.”
That’s been a problem — so far — for this team.