Though the weather didn’t get much more inclement than an on-and-off steady rain, Mon Denson and Tavien Feaster brought the thunder and lightning to Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina’s rushing attack, against the No. 5 rush defense in the SEC, a unit that allowed 110.9 per game on the ground entering Saturday, sliced and diced for 217 yards on 43 carries.
While the South Carolina threw for just 170 yards (24 percent of which came on one play), the Gamecocks’ (3-4, 2-3 SEC) — even without top-rusher Rico Dowdle, who injured his right knee on the first play of the game — proved formidable on the ground in the team’s 38-27 loss to the No. 9 Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC).
It’s the second-most rushing yards South Carolina has had against an SEC opponent this season. Florida sacked South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski three times, for negative-24 yards, a number Gamecock coaches doesn’t count toward the final statistic.
“I think those guys have played well for us this year,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “Tavien’s done a nice job. Mon’s done a nice job in his opportunities.
“Those guys are good football players.”
Feaster rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while Denson had 58 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
“Over the course of the game, more and more, we kept running the ball, and things started to open up,” Denson said. “And the holes just got bigger and bigger as the game went on.”
Said Feaster, “We ran the ball effectively and obviously had some big plays.”
After an offside penalty on Florida prolonged South Carolina’s drive, Denson took advantage and put an exclamation point on the home team’s first drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Gamecocks an eventual 7-0 lead.
South Carolina didn’t score again until three drives later, and it was once again the ground game that led it. On a second-and-six from South Carolina’s own 28-yard line, Feaster sprang free for a 36-yard gain — his longest rush of the season so far.
Gamecock kicker Parker White booted home a 49-yard field goal — tied for his longest of the season — four plays later to give the Gamecocks a 10-3 lead 54 seconds into the second quarter.
Then it was Feaster’s turn to find the end zone.
Moments into the third quarter, after South Carolina freshman defensive back Jammie Robinson came down with his first-career interception and gave the Gamecocks the ball at Florida’s 20-yard line, Feaster scored.
The six-foot, 221-pounder was tripped up but stayed on his feet and scored from 21 yards out, giving the Gamecocks a 17-10 lead just over a minute into the third quarter.
It was all Feaster and Denson on South Carolina’s next scoring drive as well.
One of the two touchdown the ball on 10-of-11 plays — including a five-play stretch from Denson. Feaster ran for five yards and then 13, a back-to-back surge that was followed by runs of 25, 6, 14 and 2 yards from Denson. Feaster went for 14, putting him over 100 yards, and 2 before White gave the Gamecocks a 20-17 lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter.
Denson rushed for 118 yards on nine carries against Charleston Southern on Sept. 7 but did not have any carries in South Carolina’s games against North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and Georgia.
“I just know that I’ve got to always stay ready, so I won’t have to get ready,” he said. “That’s something coach always harps on.”
But Denson has a knack for making these happen against Florida.
The 5-10, 215-pound bulldozer scored his first two college touchdowns (and ran for 61 yards on 13 carries, both season highs for his freshman season) against the Gators back in 2017 and earned his first college start against them last season.
Said Gamecock senior receiver Bryan Edwards, “Next man up. You know, that’s always the mentality and I thought they did a great job. They stepped in and made a lot of plays today.”