By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
CHARLOTTE — Veteran offensive lineman Donell Stanley sensed early on Saturday that South Carolina was in trouble against Virginia.
The Gamecocks fell to Virginia 28-0 in the Belk Bowl, getting shut out for the first time since 2006 against Georgia.
“It was a bad day, wrong mindset,” Stanley said. “I felt like we had real good days of practice, but our mindset wasn’t there. That wasn’t the South Carolina we have seen all year.”
The Gamecocks finished the season at 7-6 (4-4 in the SEC) in head coach Will Muschamp’s third season.
South Carolina entered the game averaging 33 points and 440 yards per game and put up 600 yards or more of total offense in two of its final three regular-season games. But against a stingy Virginia defense, the Gamecocks managed just 261 yards, their lowest total of the season. They trailed 14-0 at the half and weren’t able to muster much offense at all after falling behind 21-0 midway through the third quarter.
Quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for a school-record 510 yards and five touchdowns against No. 2 Clemson, had one of the worst games of his career, completing just 17 of 39 passes for 218 yards and two interceptions.
“I just feel like we didn’t come out ready to play,” said wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who had just three catches for 37 yards.
“Virginia came out and outplayed us and out-executed us,” Stanley said. “They had a better mindset than us. That’s why they won the game. … It was just a bad day for us.”
South Carolina had a chance to take an early lead, but Bentley overthrew running back Rico Dowdle on fourth-and-1 at the Virginia 43. They came up short again on a third-and-1 play on their next possession and had to punt.
Virginia responded with a 77-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Perkins to receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.
South Carolina responded with a drive that stalled at the Virginia 28, where Parker White missed a 45-yard field goal.
After Virginia took a 14-0 lead on a 90-yard drive, South Carolina drove into Cavalier territory before Bentley was sacked on fourth-and-1 to end the first half.
The Gamecocks had more scoring opportunities in the second half but Bentley’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone on fourth down from the 11. After the Gamecocks forced a Virginia turnover early in the fourth quarter, Bentley threw his first interception. Virginia then marched 64 yards to take a 28-0 lead.
South Carolina had one last chance to rally when Shi Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the Cavalier 38, but Bentley threw another interception to end the threat.
Stanley said the slow start and missed opportunities sucked the life out of the Gamecock offense.
“I felt like the defense they gave us some good field position with that turnover and a couple of punts and it just seemed like we couldn’t get anything going offensively,” he said. “And with our mindset being bad, it kinda killed the morale of our offense a little bit. We just got to be better than that.”
The Gamecocks were missing leading receiver Deebo Samuel and several starters on defense but weren’t using that as an excuse for their poor play.
“That is too easy,” Edwards said. “When you look at it, we had opportunities to make plays and we just didn’t. We missed some throws and we ran some wrong routes. We just looked sloppy.
“It’s really disappointing. To see this team go out like that, just not even play nowhere near our ability, it hurts.”
Stanley, Edwards and other players said the Gamecocks had a good week of practice leading into the game and believed the team was ready to play. That feeling went away, however, shortly after the opening kickoff.
“I think Virginia just came out with more juice,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “I think that’s one of those things that kinda happens but we have to be better self-starters. A lot of times I think we come out a little slow and sluggish and we pick it up in the second half, but regardless of who it is, you can’t win like that. You have to come out with the same energy and keep it throughout the whole game.”
“I felt like we were ready to play. I felt like everybody was locked in, but … I don’t know. I can’t even explain it,” Edwards said.