Rapid reaction: Quinton Flowers, USF hang on to beat Gamecocks
South Carolina came up one rally too short Thursday in the Birmingham Bowl.
For much of the game, it appeared to be a walk over for Quinton Flowers and South Florida. Especially after South Carolina threw an interception returned for a touchdown, then fumbled inside the 10-yard line.
It was a sluggish first half for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks made some adjustments and rallied from an 18-point deficit to force overtime.
On the strength of the comeback, with 15 points in the fourth quarter — and 18 unanswered to end regulation — to tie it at 39, quarterback Jake Bentley broke the Gamecocks’ record for most passing yards in a bowl game as he broke Blake Mitchell’s 323 yards in the 2006 Liberty Bowl.
USF scored first in overtime, as South Carolina needed a touchdown to force double overtime and set a team record for most points scored in a bowl game, but Bentley fumbled while being sacked. South Carolina’s third turnover in the red zone sealed its 46-39 loss, which dropped the SEC to 1-3 in bowl games.
The Gamecocks made two turnovers in the third quarter, and four in the game.
It was the most points given up in a bowl game in program history. The previous record was 38.
What I liked: It was a first half of firsts in the passing game as Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst caught their first touchdowns of the season for the Gamecocks.
Hurst’s was one to remember as he made a one-handed stab of the ball over the middle for a 25-yard scoring play. That gave the Gamecocks some confidence after a lackluster start. Also in the first half, Hurst set a record for receiving yards by a tight end. He finished the season with 616 yards.
Samuel, who had five rushing touchdowns in the regular season, made a 3-yard catch to cut the deficit to 22-14 with 1:12 left in the first half. Bentley continued his strong start at 15-for-19 for 198 yards. Bentley started 0-2 including an interception, then went 10-for-10 passing. He finished 32-for-43 for 390 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Samuel later scored on a jet sweep early in the second half, which he’s done several times this season, to cut the deficit to 29-21. He finished with 14 catches for 190 yards.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gamecocks’ linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams made an interception falling backwards at his own 23-yard line that setup a scoring drive. Bryan Edwards made a lunging catch in the back of the end zone on the ensuing drive as Bentley was under pressure on a play that was reviewed, and stood.
What I didn’t like: Five turnovers doomed the Gamecocks. And they struggled to run the ball as Rico Dowdle led the team with eight carries for 19 yards at intermission, and overall by halftime, the team had 14 carries for 30 yards. Deep in the first half, Bentley was the team’s leading rusher with two carries for 18 yards.
USF outgained South Carolina 183-39 in the first quarter as Flowers had 132 yards.
Bentley — wearing No. 19 instead of No. 4 following the departure of Lorenzo Nunez — with 12:51 sailed a pass intended for Samuel over the middle for an interception. Then Flowers and Co. went seven plays and Flowers scored his 16th rushing touchdown from 3 yards out.
The Bulls then converted a two-point conversion as South Carolina appeared confused when South Florida tight end Mitch Wilcox flipped the ball behind him to backup quarterback Brett Kean, who dropped back to pass and found Wilcox in the back of the end zone for two points.
With incoming South Florida coach Charlie Strong watching on the sideline, the Bulls made it 15-0 on an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Early in the second half, Flowers moved into top five all-time for a quarterback in Division I-A. He entered the game with 1,425 rushing yards.
Who’s the man: By halftime, Flowers was 18-for-22 for 200 yards passing and one touchdown. But he also had 13 carries for 67 yards and three touchdowns rushing, and by midway through the first half, he set a Birmingham Bowl record for touchdowns in a game. He finished with 261 passing yards and 105 rushing yards, accounting for five touchdowns.
Key play: Late in the first half, on fourth down and three, Flowers made a 37-yard touchdown pass to D’Ernest Johnson against the Gamecocks that left seven seconds left. The play was reviewed after Chris Lammons tackled Johnson at the one-yard-line. But the play stood and gave USF a 29-14 halftime lead.
The other back-breaking play for South Carolina was a third-quarter interception by Bentley on third and 17 that was returned for a touchdown that made the score 39-21. The Gamecocks held the Bulls to a field goal on the previous drive, and needed a first down to keep pace or cut into the lead.
What’s next: The Gamecocks shift their attention to recruiting and National Signing Day on Feb. 1 before the 2017 season opener against N.C. State in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 2.