Fueled by a dominant defensive performance for the ages, the South Carolina football team played its most complete game of the season in a 48-22 blowout win over the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.
Three touchdowns from the defensive side of the ball blew the doors off this SEC matchup, and with two of these turnovers coming on back-to-back Razorback drives, it happened rather quickly. With eight minutes to go in the third quarter, defensive ace Skai Moore picked off Austin Allen and returned the interception for a touchdown that ignited a fire in both the team and the fans.
“T-Rob was emphasizing that we have to have a complete game this week,” Moore said. “I think we definitely came out and did that for sure."
This play was immediately followed by a fumble recovery and 73-yard return for a touchdown on the next drive by true sophomore linebacker and Columbia native T.J. Brunson.
“I think we were all locked in and on the same page," Brunson said, echoing Moore. "That’s the biggest thing.”
Brunson acknowledged that this was his first time scoring a touchdown and it was a “fun” feeling, but one he knew he would experience.
“I think it was gonna come eventually, something like that was gonna happen," he said. "I’m thankful because it’s really cool to be at home and make plays like that."
Despite the score and play from the team, head coach Will Muschamp still believes the team’s defensive performance from two weeks prior against Louisiana Tech was its best.
“Again, I think it’s all relative to who you face. I thought one of our best performances was against Louisiana Tech,” Muschamp said.
However, the second-year coach did see improvement in the team's performance.
“Other than (a few plays), we didn’t give up anything in the run game and that’s a marked improvement from where it’s been.”
The Carolina defense smothered Arkansas, holding the Razorbacks to 153 total yards and forcing four turnovers through three quarters. They scored 17 points off turnovers in the third quarter alone, totaling 24 for the game with the second pick six of the day coming from junior Keisean Nixon.
Sophomore defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum played a big part in the defensive performance with plays on the line that sparked turnovers for the linebackers.
“We watched film and I felt like I had the advantage,” Wonnum said, after adding four solo tackles and two timely pass breakups to the excellent overall performance.
The intensity of the defense didn’t contribute to just its own success, but instead seeped onto the offensive side of the ball pushing the offense to match the level the defense was playing at.
“It’s huge to have,” sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley said of the three defensive touchdowns. “It takes pressure off of us and their confidence is through the roof right now ... Seeing them playing well gets us playing well and really just boosts the confidence of the whole team."
The Gamecocks (4-2) hope to build even more confidence throughout the week before they face a tough road challenge. They'll head to Knoxville to square off against one of their main SEC rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers (3-2) fresh off their bye week.