South Carolina’s Will Muschamp can now call his team’s bye week a success.
The Gamecocks coach said this week he judged how effective a midseason break was by the outcome of the next game, and that was this: South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 34-27 in front of 78,992 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday evening.
It was the Gamecocks’ third straight conference win and ninth straight win over the Commodores (3-5, 0-5). South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) now has matched last year’s overall win total and surpassed its best conference win total since 2013. The Gamecocks are alone in second place in the SEC East and became bowl eligible with the victory.
“We didn’t talk about (bowl eligibility),” Muschamp said. “That’s something we expect.”
South Carolina’s offense posted a season high in points. As a team, the Gamecocks had more against N.C. State and Arkansas, but those totals were boosted by special teams and defensive scores. South Carolina was outgained 440 yards to 386 yards but didn’t trail in the game’s final 55 minutes.
“We stayed balanced in the game, ran the ball extremely well, especially there to end the game,” Muschamp said. “That was really important. That’s 200 yards rushing or right at it the last three SEC games, so that’s a huge improvement from where we have been.”
Quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 174 yards and a touchdowns and ran for 47 yards and two scores, the first two rushing touchdowns of his collegiate career.
“Jake running is always funny to watch, but he did it and was effective with it,” sophomore running back A.J. Turner said.
The Gamecocks led 24-13 at halftime and had a 34-20 lead after Parker White hit a 39-yard field goal with 9:42 left in the game but still had to stop Vanderbilt one final time, on a drive that started at the Commodores 33-yard line with 2:48 left. The drive ended at South Carolina’s 40-yard line with a failed fourth down conversion attempt with 1:10 remaining.
Star of the game: Turner had a career-high 121 rushing yards on 15 carries and became the first Gamecock to surpass 100 yards on the ground this year. He also scored his second touchdown of the season.
Play of the game: Freshman wide receiver Shi Smith got his second career touchdown with a 36-yard catch in the second quarter that extended the Gamecocks lead to 21-13. Smith got wide open on a double move and raced into the right corner of the end zone.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks had a season-high 212 rushing yards and even got two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Jake Bentley, who did not have a rushing touchdown in the first 14 games of his career. Vanderbilt entered the game with the worst rushing defense in the SEC, allowing more than 300 yards a game on the ground in SEC games.
Injury update: Right guard Cory Helms returned from a sprained ankle suffered Sept. 23 to start against the Commodores but left after aggravating the injury in the first half. He is expected to be available for this week’s game against Georgia. Linebacker Sherrod Greene did not play because of a thigh bruise. He is also probable for the Georgia game.
Dumb penalties: Vanderbilt contributed mightily to its own demise with penalties. The Commodores were flagged nine times for 90 yards in the first half alone and many of them came at crucial times, including a blatant personal foul against USC punter Joseph Charlton that extended a Gamecocks touchdown drive. Commodores cornerback Zaire Jones and linebacker Charles Wright both were ejected for targeting in the first half. Jones for a hit on Bryan Edwards, and Wright for a hit on Bentley. Vanderbilt finished with 10 penalties for 100 yards. South Carolina was flagged seven times for 50 yards.
Welcome back: As expected, the regular right side of South Carolina’s offensive line returned from injury. Right tackle Zack Bailey played for the first time since suffering an ankle injury on Sept. 16 against Kentucky. Right guard Helms played for the first time since suffering an ankle injury Sept. 23 against La. Tech. Both started the game, pushing Donell Stanley back to left guard. Alan Knott remained at center, and Dennis Daley started at left guard.
Who: South Carolina at Georgia
When: Saturday, Nov. 4, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Athens, Ga.