COLUMBIA, S.C. – The streak of close finishes between Tennessee and South Carolina lived on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Oh, and the Gamecocks got their biggest win of Will Muschamp’s first season, a 24-21 win as they knocked off No. 18 Tennessee. The Vols missed a 58-yard field goal as time expired, the last-ditch attempt to tie it after a push in the final minute into USC territory.
The Gamecocks moved one big step closer to playing postseason football, evening their record at 4-4 (2-4 SEC). They have four games remaining, hosting Missouri next week, a trip to Florida, a home game against Western Carolina and a road game at Clemson. Missouri and Western Carolina appear the best bet for USC, which would reach the 6-win mark with victories in both.
Freshman quarterback Jake Bentley followed up his debut by showing poise, confidence and making numerous big throws at big moments for the Gamecocks. He finished 15 of 20 passing for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Jamarcus King had a two-interception day, both impressive and both important as the Gamecocks defense forced three turnovers. Those turnovers turned into 14 points and a drive that essentially sealed the game.
South Carolina jumped out to a lead on the first drive, which was aided by a pair of Tennessee penalties. But it was all South Carolina on the final four plays, as Bentley escaped the pocket for a 16-yard run on fourth-and-2, then found Deebo Samuel for a one-handed catch for 21 yards. Rico Dowdle finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Tennessee tied the game with a penalty-aided drive when Jalen Hurd scored from 1 yard out on third-and-goal.
King reeled in a leaping interception on third-and-17 to set up the Gamecocks in Tennessee territory. Three plays later, Bentley threw a dart to Bryan Edwards, who did the rest for a 17-yard touchdown.
South Carolina used a pair of explosive plays – a 40-yard run from Dowdle and a 22-yard reception from Samuel – to get three more points on Elliott Fry’s 28-yard field goal.
But Tennessee responded right back as Evan Berry took the following kickoff 100 yards to the house to bring it back to a one-score game, 17-14.
The Gamecocks received another turnover when Dobbs fumbled at midfield. The Gamecocks struck quickly, as Bentley hit a wide-open K.C. Crosby for a 35-yard touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
Moment that mattered
South Carolina put the game on its defense with 3:50 to play. The Gamecocks punted and Tennessee took over at its 20-yard line.
It took one play for the Gamecocks to snuff the comeback attempt as Jamarcus King intercepted Dobbs at the USC 46-yard line.
South Carolina essentially put the game away with the following drive.
Bentley + Crosby = @GamecockFB TOUCHDOWN!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 30, 2016
Can the Gamecocks shore up their defense?
For two straight weeks, South Carolina had been … not great … on defense. Against Georgia, it was against the run. Against Massachusetts, it was the pass.
Neither crushed the Gamecocks this week, as they allowed just 98 yards in the first half and largely stifled the Tennessee run game, which was without Alvin Kamara and scarcely used Hurd.
The Gamecocks also forced three turnovers, which led to 14 points.
The past five games between South Carolina and Tennessee have been decided by 14 points.
What it means
Well, South Carolina – as mentioned – now is a big step closer to playing football in December. The Gamecocks needed to pull off an upset of either Tennessee, Florida or Clemson. It got one Saturday and has two should-be wins remaining (Missouri, Western Carolina) in its final two home games.
But in the here and now, South Carolina got a huge upset against a ranked team and it’s the type of win that should have them excited about the now and the future.