South Carolina achieved bowl eligibility in sloppy fashion Saturday with a 37-12 victory over South Alabama in a contest that featured ten turnovers.
The Gamecocks will play in a bowl game for the ninth time in ten seasons under head coach Steve Spurrier and the 20th time in program history.
In a season that has had more than its fair share of ups and downs, Saturday’s win finally put an end to the nightmarish thought of the preseason No. 9 team missing the postseason altogether.
Spurrier credited his team’s resilience for reaching the six-win plateau ahead of its highly anticipated matchup with Clemson.
“They have turned around the season in these last two games,” Spurrier said. “It would have been easy for them to pack it in [after the Tennessee game], but they have risen to the occasion.”
For much of the game, South Carolina failed to put away the Jaguars despite being given numerous chances. After a South Alabama field goal cut the Gamecock's lead to 10-6 early in the second quarter, the wrong kind of back-and-forth game broke out.
The next six possessions ended in turnovers, one being a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior safety Brison Williams. Spurrier noted the play was huge for regaining momentum after the first of junior running back Mike Davis’ two fumbles.
Davis, who took part in the Senior Day activities, had just three touches in the game, fumbling the final two. His fumbles were two of five South Carolina turnovers, which allowed the Jaguars to hang in the game until the fourth quarter.
“With all the turnovers we had, we gave them a chance,” Spurrier said. “But fortunately, our defense really came to play the entire second half. I knew it wasn't going to be easy.”
The defensive unit held the Jaguars to just 3.7 yards per play and allowed 82 total yards in the second half, forcing five turnovers in all. Saturday marked the second time this season — the other being Furman — that the defense recovered a fumble and caught an interception in the same game. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said he was happy to see his players' hard work pay off for the second-consecutive week.
Though the team recognized before Halloween it would fall short of preseason expectations, a three-game win streak capped off by a win over Clemson to end the season (while locking up bowl eligibility) can give the Gamecocks traction in the restoration process.
And even though the bowl game will in all likelihood be played before New Year’s Day for the first time in four years, the extra practices the team will have should prove invaluable in the development of the younger players.
Despite what will ultimately be labeled a disappointing season, the team’s ability to scrap out six wins to earn its 11TH bowl appearance since 2000 reinforces that this program is still in a much better place than it was 20 years ago.
“It is momentum,” redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson said. “It’s getting victories and doing what it takes to win, and that’s what we’ve done in the past two weeks.”