Rapid reaction: Gamecocks hang on to edge East Carolina
Making your first college start at an opponent’s 9-yard line is ideal, and that’s exactly what Brandon McIlwain did in a 20-15 victory Saturday over East Carolina. But while the Gamecocks got off to a strong start for the first time this season, they couldn’t extend the lead until late in the fourth quarter.
Known for his running ability, McIlwain showed off his arm on the second series with a 42-yard connection with Bryan Edwards that was the key play on McIlwain’s second scoring drive when he scored from 10 yards out.
The positives began early and continued to halftime for South Carolina’s first lead at intermission since 2014 — since the Independence Bowl against Miami.
That was all they needed, but the Gamecocks got much more in a confidence-building victory as they look to string together some consistency next week when they return to SEC play.
What it means: The Gamecocks restored confidence after a lackluster effort last week at Mississippi State, only to have questions resurface after they were shut out in the second and third quarters. And they’ll have a chance to develop momentum with a road game next week to Kentucky.
The fact that the Gamecocks reached their season high of points (17) with 7:58 left in the first quarter offers a glimpse into the season. Though for perspective, it was against an East Carolina defense that yielded 30 points last week in a win over N.C. State.
Regardless, the fact that quarterback Perry Orth was on the sideline wearing a hat and towel around his neck was a sure sign of how the coaching staff feels about the quarterback situation.
What I liked: A fast start was exactly what the Gamecocks needed, and that’s what they got in the form of an A.J. Turner opening kick to the ECU 18, who was then was horse-collared on the tackle. On the first play from scrimmage, McIlwain scored on a nine-yard run 17 seconds into the game.
Jamarcus King made a first-half diving interception in the end zone on a 3rd-and-goal from the 1 after the defense allowed the Pirates 43 yards on the drive.
A week after he was called out by Will Muschamp, Chris Lammons responded with a solid game, including a diving interception at the goal line early in the second half.
It was one of four turnovers the Gamecocks forced.
What I didn’t like: Overall, missed opportunities by the South Carolina offense following multiple turnovers and red-zone miscues by East Carolina. After a 17-point first quarter, the Gamecocks didn’t score again until 6:24 left in the game.
The Gamecocks’ defense let its foot off the gas in the second half as the Pirates had a sustained drive that was bolstered by a pass interference call. But the Gamecocks were fortunate it ended with a missed field goal. Another drive, early in the fourth quarter, brought the Pirates to the Gamecocks’ 10 before they fumbled and South Carolina recovered it in its own end zone.
McIlwain’s passing ability, already a work in progress, was not impressive. He had just 71 yards to five receivers by halftime, but only one had double-digit yards. Though he had 60 in the third quarter alone, the offense was shut out. He finished 16-for-28 for 195 yards. Most important, he didn’t throw an interception.
Who’s the man: Pirates receiver Zay Jones had a school-record 22 catches for 190 yards. The reception total was one shy of an FBS record. That was half of quarterback Philip Nelson’s output in a 44-for-58, 400-yard passing day.
What’s next: South Carolina (2-1) travels to Kentucky, which lost its first two games and played New Mexico State on Saturday.