By Jeff Owens/Photo by SC Athletics
CHARLOTTE — With its best player on the sidelines, the South Carolina offense had no spark Saturday.
And with its defense missing several starters and key players, it was no match for Virginia's versatile offense.
The result was a disappointing 28-0 loss in the Belk Bowl. The Gamecocks were shut out for the first time since an 18-0 loss to Georgia in 2006.
The Gamecocks finished the year at 7-6 in Will Muschamp's third season.
The Gamecocks played without leading receiver Deebo Samuel, who chose to sit out the game while he prepares for the NFL Draft. Samuel had 11 receiving touchdowns and 13 overall during the regular season as Carolina averaged 33 points and 440 yards per game. Without Samuel, the Gamecocks managed just 261 of total offense, their lowest total of the season.
Jake Bentley completed just 17 of 39 passes for 218 yards and two interceptions. The Gamecocks rushed for only 43 yards were 2 of 13 on third down and 2 of 5 on fourth down. Virginia dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42:35 to 17:25 for South Carolina.
The defense, playing several freshmen and a walk-on, could not contain Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins and receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Perkins threw for 208 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards. Zaccheaus had 12 receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Jordan Ellis rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown as Viginia gained 413 yards of total offense.
Here’s a look at the key plays of the game:
• With South Carolina missing three starters on the defensive line, Virginia dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, controlling the ball with two long scoring drives. The Cavs took a 7-0 lead after a 77-yard drive that took 6:31.
They went up 14-0 with a 90-yard drive that took 8:10 and chewed up most of the second quarter. The Cavalier running game gashed the Gamecock defense on the drive, which was capped by a 9-yard touchdown run straight up the middle by Jordan Ellis.
Virginia dominated time of possession in the first half — 20:19 to 9:41 — and out-gained Carolina 197-160.
• The South Carolina defense finally got a stop at the start of the second half, holding Virginia to one first down. But the offense contiued to struggle and got off to a abysmal second-half start. Tight end K.C. Crosby caught a pass on first down but fumbled and lost five yards. On third down, Bentley was sacked and thrown for a 12-yard loss, forcing the Gamecocks to punt from their 13-yard line and giving the Cavaliers the ball at the 39.
Virginia responded with an eight-play, 39-yard drive to take a 21-0 lead on Olamide Zaccheaus' second touchdown catch of the game.
• Down 21-0, South Carolina put together it best drive of the day, using two big plays to move inside the Virginia 10-yard line. Mon Denson caught a screen pass from Bentley and broke loose for a 23-yard gain. Bentley then hit Shi Smith for 37 yards to the Virginia 8. But after a three-yard loss by Denson, Bentley threw three straight incompletions, including a fourth-down pass that failed when Chavis Dawkins appeared to run the wrong route.
• The Gamecocks got a big break on Virginia's next possession but gave it right back. Safety R.J. Roderick stripped Hasise Dubois of the ball and Damani Staley pounced on the fumble at the Virginia 46.
But on the third play of the drive, Bentley threw an interception to Juan Thornhill, who returned it 54 yards to the South Carolina 21. After the defense held, Virginia missed a field goal.
• After another three-and-out on South Carolina's next possession, Virginia put the game away with an eight-play, 64-yard drive capped by Zaccheaus' third touchdown catch of the game.
• South Carolina finally produced a big play when Shi Smith, subbing for Samuel, returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the Virginia 38. But after a 24-yard completion to Bryan Edwards, Bentley threw his second interception of the game.
• The Gamecock offense struggled early, coming up short on fourth-and-1 on their first possession and third-and-1 on the second. Virginia responded with a 13-play, 77-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead on Perkins’ six-yard TD pass to a wide-open Olamide Zaccheaus.
The Gamecock defense struggled to contain Perkins on the drive. The Virginia QB had two 13-yard runs and completed four of five passes on the Cavs’ second possession.
• South Carolina finally moved the ball at the end of the first quarter — and converted another fourth-and-1 on a Bentley run — but the drive stalled at the 28 and Parker White missed a 45-yard field goal.
The Gamecocks picked up two more first downs on its next possession but once again the drive stalled with a critical mistake. Mon Denson started the drive with a 15-yard run and Shi Smith followed with a 13-yard catch. But freshman receiver Josh Vann dropped a pass on third down, forcing Carolina to punt. It was Vann’s second drop in the game.