The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Gamecock football falls in high-scoring matchup against Notre Dame in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

<p>File—Redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler enters the field at the start of South Carolina’s game against Georgia on Sep. 17, 2022.&nbsp;The Gamecocks fell to the Bulldogs 48-7.&nbsp;</p>
File—Redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler enters the field at the start of South Carolina’s game against Georgia on Sep. 17, 2022. The Gamecocks fell to the Bulldogs 48-7. 

The No. 19 South Carolina Gamecocks lost 45-38 in a high-scoring battle against No. 21 Notre Dame in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday. The Gamecocks led by 14 in the first quarter but let the Fighting Irish climb back into the game during the second half. 

Notre Dame used a number of big plays to steadily build momentum throughout the game and eventually take its first lead in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish had seven passes completed for more than 15 yards, including touchdown plays of 75 and 44 yards. They also had 11 runs for more than 10 yards, including three for over 20 yards. 

 "It's never how you foresee it on the front end," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. "You can sit here before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go, it wasn't like that. But the ending was, and that's what we'll remember."

The Gamecocks jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter after scoring touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. 

Redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler found senior wide receiver Xavier Legette for a 13-yard touchdown to score the game’s first points. Notre Dame responded with a touchdown of its own on its second drive.

South Carolina scored the game’s next two touchdowns on a fake punt pass from junior punter Kai Kroeger and a 47-yard pick-six from freshman defensive back DQ Smith. 

"DQ is awesome. Him and (freshman defensive back) Nick (Emmanwori) both," Gamecock head coach Shane Beamer said. "To come in as a true freshmen from right in Columbia and not be recruited at all, they're awesome. DQ is a guy — he's a smart kid."

However, Notre Dame did not let those plays put a win out of reach. The Fighting Irish responded by scoring five of the last seven touchdowns in the game.

South Carolina’s two second half touchdowns — a toe-tapping 42-yard receiving score for Legette and a 100-yard pick-six from redshirt sophomore defensive back O'Donnell Fortune — were helpful but not enough to seal the game.

"Certainly we had our opportunities," Beamer said. "When you score twice on defense, you ought to win the football game."

Notre Dame found the edge on the Gamecock defense through the run game. Fighting Irish rushers combined for 264 yards on 46 attempts. Sophomore running back Audric Estimé carried the ball 14 times for 95 yards and sophomore running back Logan Diggs ran for 89 yards on 13 attempts.

"Third and fourth quarter that's our quarter, so we're patient," Diggs said. "Once it gets down to when your back is against the wall, that's the kind of games we want. I go to the O-line and look at them, and they've got the same look in their eye that I have, so we know what time it is."

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks' run game hit a wall. The team totaled 65 yards on the ground on 22 attempts and ran for just 15 yards in the second half. 

"We were able to pop some runs in there early and not well enough, consistently enough, and losing Nate Adkins ... we had one tight end coming into the game essentially, and we lost him to an upper-body injury in the second half," Beamer said. "That's not to make excuses, but that certainly affected our ability to do some things in the run game."

Despite passing for seven fewer yards, the Gamecocks were more efficient in the passing game — completing 62% of passes and throwing just one interception while Fighting Irish passers completed 56% of their throws and tossed three interceptions. But the success of the passing attack was not enough to overcome the poor run game, and when the passing game stalled late, the South Carolina offense went nowhere. In the second half, the Gamecocks punted on five of their seven drives and turned the ball over on downs on the final drive. 

South Carolina's season ends with an 8-5 record, improving on last season's record by one win. After winning last year’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Beamer is now 1-1 in bowl games during his two years as head coach.

 "I would hope the progress that we've made is extremely evident with what we've done to this point. That's why we put so much into this season," Beamer said. "To be a team that was 1-2 and then to win seven out of nine games, to beat Kentucky for the first time up there in forever, to beat Texas A&M for literally the first time ever, to beat back-to-back top-10 teams in back-to-back weeks as an unranked opponent, that's only the seventh time that's ever happened in the history of college football."

The team will now transition into the offseason and begin preparations for the 2023 season.