South Carolina’s quest at winning five straight bowl games was dashed on Thursday afternoon in Birmingham. Although they were equipped with a spirited effort, the USF Bulls were able to hand them their first postseason loss since the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, winning 46-39 in overtime.
USF was hot out of the gate, taking a 22-7 lead in the second quarter after jumping out 15-0. Quinton Flowers was the primary source of energy for the Bulls, stampeding for three rushing touchdowns under center. Flowers would later use his arm, as a touchdown would blossom with seven seconds to play as Flowers found D’Ernest Johnson who would hit paydirt to bring their lead up to 29-14 to enter the break.
A squall of scores would go down in the third quarter as the teams combined for 20 points. Following a field goal by Elliott Fry late in the third quarter, South Carolina would go on a scoring bender that put them back in position to send the game to OT. The Gamecocks would go on to score the next 18 points, with the other 15 all coming in the fourth quarter. Bryan Edwards and tailback AJ Turner would do the damage, with Turner scampering in on a one-yard run with 1:11 to play. Bentley would find Hurst in the end zone for the two-point conversion, and the Birmingham Bowl would then head to extra frames.
Flowers sprouted another touchdown pass, this time to Elkanah Dillon, on the first drive of overtime. South Carolina would inch as close as the eight-yard line, but Bentley would be sacked and stripped of the ball by Mike Love and Khalid McGee would fall on the ball, thus concluding both the game and South Carolina’s season.
What we learned
Jake Bentley is a whale of a player
The Gamecocks’ QB of the future put on a pretty dynamite performance. USF’s pass defense may have been porous entering the game, ranking 75th in S&P+, but 32-for-43 with 390 yards and three touchdowns is terrific however you slice it. The two picks, one being returned for a touchdown, is a big eyesore. However, Bentley’s performance in the Birmingham Bowl as well as down the stretch should give credence to the belief that the Gamecocks are set at QB for 2017 and beyond.
Deebo Samuel remains a stud
Samuel was Bentley’s most reliable pass catcher on Thursday, as he’d been most of the season. He picked up 14 receptions with 190 yards and a touchdown, averaging 13.6 yards per reception. Samuel has the kind of talent to make him a name to watch next year with regards to the 2018 NFL Draft, so if you don’t know him now you might want to and tell your friends about him too.
South Carolina is headed in the right direction
While you’d hope for development next year with Muschamp under the helm, anything that happened this year for the Gamecocks was going to be gravy. South Carolina was picked to finish near the bottom of the conference at the start of the year, so given the sum of all parts, this wasn’t a terrible season by any stretch. What comes next is important, but 2016 was a success for South Carolina.