The offensive woes that hindered South Carolina all season were virtually non-existent in a dominating 38-21 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Duke's Mayo Bowl on Thursday.
South Carolina controlled the tempo of the game with its ability to put together successful scoring drives that lead to the team's first bowl victory since 2017. It was the Gamecocks' first winning season since 2017.
"Credit to our offensive staff. All I've heard for a month is how awful they are and what am I doing not firing people and things like that," head coach Shane Beamer said. "Well, I hope that's a great answer for you right there — that's why. Great job by those guys getting those guys ready."
Beamer named graduate quarterback Zeb Noland the starting quarterback prior to the game. On the first play, however, junior Dakereon Joyner lined up under center and Noland at wide receiver.
Normally at wide receiver, Joyner found sophomore tight end Jaheim Bell open for a 69-yard touchdown on the team's opening drive for Joyner's first career touchdown pass as a Gamecock.
Coming out of high school, Joyner was recruited by South Carolina as a four-star quarterback. He eventually switched to playing wide receiver, though, after it became clear a change was necessary.
Joyner, who was named the game's most valuable player, completed 9-of-9 passes for 160 yards, a touchdown and rushed for 64 yards.
"I went through so much adversity. I could've quit so many times ... If it wasn't for coach (Justin) Stepp, I would've stopped playing," Joyner said. "Everything was just not going my way, but I got a family that prays, you know what I'm saying. So, I'm very thankful, I'm very grateful. That's all I can say, man — it feels like a dream."
The Gamecocks found the end zone once more on their ensuing drive as Noland completed a 66-yard strike to Bell.
Along with the two touchdowns, Bell finished the game with 159 receiving yards and 21 rushing yards, giving him plenty of momentum heading into the next season.
"Like I tell my coaches, I'm an athlete. I can do whatever they ask me to do," Bell said.
In the closing minutes of the first half, redshirt senior kicker Parker White tacked on a 30-yard field goal, which made him the all-time leading scorer in program history with 368 points. The previous record of 359 all-time points scored was held by Elliot Fry. Fry kicked for the Gamecocks from 2013-2016.
Despite a depleted running back group, the remaining running backs played a large part in the offensive success. Redshirt senior ZaQuandre White declared for the NFL draft prior to the game and redshirt freshman MarShawn Lloyd was injured and did not play.
With White and Lloyd not playing, junior Kevin Harris and freshman Juju McDowell carried the load, as they each completed a rushing touchdown.
The two ran a combined 234 yards on 36 attempts. Harris took on a majority of the carries and rushed for 182 yards. McDowell tallied 52 yards on five carries.
One of the major differences in the game was the Gamecocks' ability to capitalize on third down, which it converted on 54.5% of its tries. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels struggled immensely in this category, as it went 1-for-10 on third down conversions.
In addition to the inability to convert, North Carolina junior quarterback Sam Howell was sacked four times.
"I think an advantage for us was we got to see everybody else play them," redshirt senior edge Jordan Strachan said. "You watch all the film and see where other teams made mistakes and those types of things. We were able to capitalize and do what other teams didn't do that we were able to see from their mistakes this season. So, I think that helped us a lot."
The Gamecocks will open the 2022 season against Georgia State on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at Williams-Brice Stadium.