COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina started November the same way it ended October, winning and getting it done offensively.
The Gamecocks offense, led by Jake Bentley, Rico Dowdle and Deebo Samuel, put up a season-high 428 yards in their 31-21 win against Missouri on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Dowdle had a huge second half on his way to a career-high 149 yards rushing and Samuel made highlight catches time and time again for a career-high 125 yards receiving.
Bentley again was sharp, as he played turnover-free ball for the third straight game. He threw for a career-high 254 yards with 2 touchdowns on 22 of 28 passing.
The Gamecocks finished their five-game homestand with a 3-2 mark to push their record to 5-4, one win shy of bowl-eligibility.
South Carolina took an early lead after a Mizzou fumble at its 20. Deebo Samuel scored his third rushing touchdown of the season from the 6. Mizzou put together a quick drive, covering 90 yards in seven plays over 1:56 to tie the game after Damarea Crockett ran up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown.
The Gamecocks regained the lead as Dowdle made an impressive touchdown grab after Bentley’s throw bounced off the back of a Mizzou defender. But the Tigers again had an answer as they drove right down the field in just 2:38 and Ish Witter ran untouched up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown run.
USC took a 21-14 lead before half when Bentley hit K.C. Crosby on a 6-yard slant for the score.
Mizzou took no time at all after halftime to tie it, as Kendall Blanton caught a 9-yard touchdown from Drew Lock. Dowdle spun and raced into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown to turn the back-and-forth game back in South Carolina’s favor.
Dowdle fueled a fourth-quarter drive, as he hammered out runs of 23, 11 and 14 yards to set up a 24-yard Elliott Fry field goal.
Moment that mattered
Missouri again was slicing through the South Carolina defense, converting a fourth down in South Carolina territory in a 21-21 game.
The Tigers went long on the following play, but Lock underthrew the pass and Rashad Fenton intercepted it at the USC 2-yard line. The Gamecocks went down to take a 28-21 lead on the ensuing drive.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 5, 2016
Can South Carolina keep its winning streak rolling?
You bet. The Gamecocks have won three in a row, turning their season from 2-4 to 5-4. But what mattered so much Saturday was that it was a game the Gamecocks had to win to move one step closer to playing in December.
They did that with the win, beating a Missouri team as it should and securing another win.
Will the South Carolina offensive line protect Bentley better?
South Carolina has allowed the most sacks in the SEC, a struggle highlighted as Tennessee sacked Bentley 6 times last week and had many more hits and pressures.
Mizzou sacked Bentley 4 times and had 9 tackles for loss, again bringing the issues up front to light. The offense itself is clicking much more and the line has played better, at times, but it has to protect Bentley better in the season’s final month.
South Carolina didn’t break the 20-point mark in its first six games of the season. It is averaging 29.7 points per game in its past three with Bentley at quarterback and a healthy stable of weapons.
What it means
South Carolina goes into its final three games with a winning record and playing its best offensive football in some time.
The young group is coming into its own, led by Bentley and Dowdle.
Bowl eligibility seemed a bit of a long shot after USC opened 1-2, but it looks like a near certainty with three games remaining. Not too shabby for Will Muschamp’s first year.