By Jeff Owens/File photo by Allen Sharpe
South Carolina had little to play for Saturday in its final regular-season game of the year.
So, on a rainy day that dampened the crowd and festivities at Williams-Brice Stadium, it was a good day for the Gamecocks to pad their stats and continue their assault on the record books.
Jake Bentley, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards all reached significant milestones as the Gamecocks rolled past Akron, 28-3, in the final game of the regular season.
“Our goal is to make plays," Edwards said. "They tell us to make plays when the ball comes our way and that’s our job. Coach B-Mac does a good job preaching that to us and we just go out there and do our jobs."
South Carolina improved to 7-5 to secure its second straight winning season under Will Muschamp. It will participate in its third straight bowl game, with the destination and opponent to be announced Sunday.
The Gamecocks compiled 384 yards of total offense. Bentley threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns, surpassing 7,000 career passing yards, while Samuel moved up the all-time time scoring list with three touchdowns. Mon Denson rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries, while Bryan Edwards had five receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.
South Carolina held Akron to just 260 yards of total offense and held an opponent to its fewest points this season.
Here's a look at the key plays and significant developments:
• Samuel just keeps finding different ways to score touchdowns. After scoring South Carolina’s first touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Bentley, Samuel scored another one on special teams.
Akron lined up for a punt from its own 24-yard line, but the snap was over the punter’s head and the ball rolled into the end zone. Samuel pounced on it, wrestling it away from the punter, for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks a 21-3 lead. It marked the second time this season that Samuel has recovered a fumble on special teams.
On South Carolina’s next possession, Samuel struck again, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bentley. It was his 11th receiving touchdown of the season, moving him into second on the all-time list, and his 13th overall touchdown of the season, tying him for fourth on the all-time list. It was also his 28th career touchdown, tying him for fourth on that list.
He is also the first player in school history to score touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing, on kickoff returns and via fumble recovery.
• When Bentley connected with Samuel for the first touchdown of the game, it was a significant milestone for him as well. He flipped a little shuttle pass to Samuel, who blasted through a big hole on the right side and raced into the end zone. It was Bentley’s 25th touchdown pass, moving him into third on the single-season list.
• Bentley, who also surpassed 7,000 yards passing in the game, continued his assault on the record book when the Gamecocks got the ball back again, tossing a 70-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards to move into second on the single-season touchdown pass list. Edwards split two defenders at midfield and raced down the right sideline to the end zone. Edwards moved into fifth in career receptions with the catch and to ninth with his 16th career TD catch.
Bentley’s third TD pass to Samuel gave him 27 on the season, two shy of Steve Taneyhill’s school record.
• The Gamecocks have played a host of freshmen on defense this season and two have them have stood out. Jaycee Horn, who started at corner in the first game of the season, was outstanding before missing the last two games with an injury. Safety R.J. Roderick has also shined and had one of the plays of the game Saturday.
Roderick drilled Akron receiver Daishawn Brimage, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Sherrod Greene. Roderick was initially flagged for targeting but the call was overturned when replays showed it was clearly a clean, shoulder-first tackle. On Akron’s next possession, Roderick had another bone-jarring hit on running back Deltron Sands.
• Despite missing starters D.J. Wonnum and Aaron Sterling and pass-rushing linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, the Gamecock defensive line played well Saturday, collecting a season-high five sacks, seven quarterback hurries and breaking up four passes. Javon Kinlaw, Kobe Smith and Brad Johnson each had sacks, while freshman J.J. Enagbare had a sack and three QB hurries.
• For the second time this season, the Gamecocks played a home game in the rain and it wreaked havoc on ball security. South Carolina had four turnovers, matching a season-high. Bentley threw two interceptions in the end zone, while Rico Dowdle and tight end Kiel Pollard both fumbled the ball away. The Gamecocks also turned it over on downs when they were stopped on fourth-and-one at the 18-yard line.
Akron turned the ball over three times, all fumbles.
“We came out the first half and were pretty sharp offensively, pretty sharp defensively, and then just got sloppy in the second half," head coach Will Muschamp said. "Obviously, the conditions catered to not throwing it extremely well."
“We just didn’t execute the way we wanted to," Bentley said. "Obviously being in the rain made it hard to throw the ball and just didn’t play well the second half. We have got to be better. Disappointed in how we played, but we won and it’s a lot easier to correct mistakes after a win than it is a loss."
• Four-year starter Zack Bailey was carted off the field at the end of the third quarter with an apparant ankle injury. It was a tough break for Bailey, who has been one of the Gamecocks' best offensive linemen. He has played in 46 games in his career, starting 38.
Bailey, a Summerville native, was looking forward to playing his final home game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It’s a little different but it’s kinda exciting, one more game at home," he said on Tuesday. "One more time to see the fans and see this great arena and the surroundings."