COM­MEN­TARY Game­cocks have flaws but are find­ing ways to fin­ish

The State (Sunday) - - Usc Football - BY JOSH KENDALL jk­endall@thes­tate.com

At some point dur­ing the blur that was Sat­ur­day’s South Carolina-ole Miss game, Game­cocks of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bryan Mcclen­don asked his boss if he wanted to slow down the pace to let a bat­tered South Carolina de­fense have a chance to catch its breath.

No way, Will Muschamp re­sponded. If the Game­cocks had any chance to win in Vaught-hem­ing­way Sta­dium it was go­ing to be in a shootout, and that’s what South Carolina even­tu­ally did, sur­viv­ing Ole Miss for a 48-44 vic­tory that fea­tured 1,126 yards of com­bined of­fense.

“I said, ‘Keep go­ing,’ be­cause we weren’t stop­ping them and they weren’t stop­ping us,” Muschamp said of his con­ver­sa­tion with Mcclen­don. “The worst thing I could do was throw us off of­fen­sively and try to slow the game down and all of a sud­den we don’t get first downs, so we stayed with tempo.”

When the dust set­tled, Ole Miss had 616 yards and 34 first downs, but South Carolina had the vic­tory af­ter eras­ing a 10-point fourth-quar­ter deficit and hold­ing the Rebels to 16 yards on their fi­nal four pos­ses­sions.

“We needed (the de­fense) at the end of the game,” said quar­ter­back Jake Bent­ley, who had 363 pass­ing yards, his most ever against an SEC op­po­nent. “You can say what you want to about the score, but they played big when we needed them. We con­tin­ued to bat­tle un­til the clock hit triple zero.”

For all their faults, the Game­cocks (5-3 over­all, 4-3 SEC) have done that all sea­son long. Their last four games have been de­cided by four or fewer points, and South Carolina has won three of them.

“We have to con­tinue to work on some things, but one thing you can’t ques­tion is the fight of our foot­ball team,” Muschamp said.

South Carolina was of­fered plenty of rea­sons to quit Sat­ur­day. Chiefly, there were the in­juries. The Game­cocks’ top two run­ning backs, Rico Dow­dle and Ty’son Wil­liams, start­ing safety Jamyest Wil­liams, start­ing of­fen­sive line­man Ma­lik Young and re­serve de­fend­ers Aaron Ster­ling and Javon Charles­ton all left in the first half and were un­able to re­turn.

“I have to re­ally give our foot­ball team credit. The re­siliency and the fight this team has and they keep hang­ing in there re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stance or sit­u­a­tion,” Muschamp said.

“It says a lot about their coach­ing staff. It says a lot about the cul­ture of our pro­gram. Give our kids credit, they fought their butts off.”

The Rebels, who were led by quar­ter­back Jor­dan Ta’amu’s 379 pass­ing yards, fell to 5-4 over­all and 1-4 in the SEC.

The all-time se­ries be­tween these two teams is now tied at eight each.

Six dif­fer­ent Game­cocks scored on Sat­ur­day, in­clud­ing se­nior Deebo Sa­muel, who opened the game with a 90-yard kick­off re­turn for a touch­down.

“We knew we were go­ing to have to score a lot of points com­ing in,” said wide re­ceiver Bryan Ed­wards, who had a ca­reer­long 75-yard catch for a touch­down.

“We knew ev­ery time we got up, there was a chance they were go­ing got get back in the game. We knew we had to score points al­most ev­ery pos­ses­sion. That was the men­tal­ity com­ing into the game.”

The Game­cocks re­main a flawed foot­ball team, deeply in some ar­eas, but they now are the proud own­ers of a two-game win­ning streak for the first time this sea­son and were able to head home from Ox­ford, Miss., in a good mood while try­ing to fig­ure out how to fix all the var­i­ous things that ail them.

“Our last three weeks, we have played bet­ter foot­ball, and we’re 2-1,” Muschamp said.

“We had op­por­tu­ni­ties in all three games to win the game or lose the game. We won two of them. You want to have a spe­cial sea­son, you win all three.”

Spe­cial has sailed on this South Carolina team, but a bowl game is now al­most a cer­tainty with games against Chat­tanooga and Akron re­main­ing on the sched­ule.

Given what could have been this sea­son, that’s say­ing some­thing.

GAVIN MCINTYRE gm­cin­tyre@thes­tate.com

South Carolina wide re­ceiver Deebo Sa­muel scores a touch­down on a kick re­turn against Ole Miss as Is­rael Mukuamu runs be­hind him Sat­ur­day.

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