Dylan Thompson's first TD reception
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Univ. of SC Media / Gamecocksonline.com) - A stout defensive performance from South Carolina (6-5) would more than make up for its five turnovers, as it held South Alabama (6-5) to just 289 yards of offense and forced five turnovers of its own in a 37-12 win Saturday afternoon. It was senior day at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the class shined in its final game in front of the home fans.
SC was stout on Defense vs the Jaguars
After the teams traded field goals on the opening drives of the game, the Gamecocks went ahead 10-3 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior Dylan Thompson to his classmate, Nick Jones, who would personally finish the first quarter with three catches for 53 yards. Thompson moved into fifth all-time in passing yards for a season on the touchdown to Jones.
Nick Jones TD Reception
The Gamecocks were driving deep into South Alabama territory hoping to extend its lead early in the quarter, but Mike Davis was stripped at the end of an eight-yard rush to give up possession. It would not last long, as its second play from scrimmage would be an interception taken to the house by Brison Williams. The swing pass out to the left-side flat was sniffed out by the senior safety, who ran up from deep coverage, snagged the pass in stride and went 21 yards for the touchdown, his second pick-six of the year for a 17-6 advantage.
Brison Williams Interception & TD
Brison Williams TD
Williams would strike again on the Jags' next possession, making a leaping catch at the Carolina 11-yard line to stop a potential scoring drive and record his fourth interception of the season. The Gamecocks would drive near midfield before a mistimed pass from Thompson would be returned by South Alabama to just outside the red zone.
Two plays after giving it up, possession would pinball back to the Gamecocks after Skai Moore stepped in front of a pass at the six-yard line. The celebrations were just starting to die down before the quarter's sixth and final turnover would happen, with Davis fumbling a 13-yard pass from Thompson. That set the Jaguars up for a field goal to close out the half with the Gamecocks up 17-9.
South Alabama had almost 21 minutes of possession in the first half. It was able to soak up the clock thanks to a 5-of-8 success rate on third-down conversions.
While the turnovers would never go away for either side in the second half, the Carolina defense tightened up and allowed just 82 yards in the final 30 minutes and 2.5 yards per play. It also forced four punts and a trio of three-and-outs.
A pair of Elliot Fry field goals was all the scoring that would come in the third quarter for either team, as he hit a career-long 47-yard attempt and a 24 yarder. His second make came after Mason Harris forced a fumble on a sack in Jaguar territory, leading to a 23-9 lead going to the fourth.
The Gamecocks pulled a special trick out of its sleeve to put the game out of reach early on in the fourth. Starting on its own four-yard line, Carolina embarked on a season-long 96-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard pass from Pharoh Cooper to Thompson. Cooper returned the favor to his quarterback just two plays after he took a post route 73 yards to the South Alabama 13 yard line.
In the very next drive, Moore made his second interception of the game and returned it 42 yards to get the home side back in the red zone. One play later, David Williams scampered the final 14 yards for the score and a 37-9 advantage. Of Carolina's four interceptions, three came as the Jaguars were driving into the home half of the field.
David Williams in slow motion
Thompson finished his final home game on a high note, exiting to a raucous applause from the home crowd in the team's final drive. Along with his first career touchdown catch, the Boiling Springs native passed for 237 yards.
The offense was able to even out the early advantage in time of possession that South Alabama built by running the ball 37 times for 210 yards with seven different players. Brandon Wilds led the team with 77 yards rushing and Williams went 12 times for 65 yards. In another game flashing his versatility, Cooper finished with 95 yards receiving, 42 yards running and the touchdown pass.
The win makes South Carolina bowl eligible for the 10th-consecutive season and gives the senior class its 39th win, second-most ever for a graduating class in program history.
The first play after a Mike Davis fumble was lost, Brison Williams came up with his third interception of the season. The senior read the swing pass to the left flat and came all the way up from the safety spot to catch it in stride and jog home for the touchdown. It was his second pick-six of the season.
Despite running 21 more plays in the game, South Alabama averaged just 3.7 yards per play while the Gamecocks averaged eight. The Jaguars averaged just 2.5 yards per play in the second half.
The Gamecocks punted just once in the game, coming with the second-string offense in and under two minutes to play. The team had no three-and-outs on the day.
With his 3-for-3 day on field goals and three extra points, Elliot Fry passed Ryan Succop for sixth in points in a single season and past Mark Fleetwood for eighth in career scoring.
Fish and Fry
Thompson went over 3,000 yards for the season, moving past Stephen Garcia (2,862 in 2009) and Todd Ellis (3,020 in 1986) into fourth place on the list. He needs at least 175 yards against Clemson to match the single-season record (Todd Ellis, 3,206 in 1987).
Head Coach Steve Spurrier is now 53-0 against teams outside the BCS/Power 5 conferences in his career. Carolina's last loss to a team outside the Power 5 was back in 1999 against East Carolina.
South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier
I told the guys there's another team who is bowl-eligible, and it's the South Carolina Gamecocks. It was a big win for us; it really was. The South Alabama team is a pretty good team. With all the turnovers we had, it gave them a chance and fortunately our defense really came to play the second half. It was a really good win for the Gamecocks. I knew it wouldn't be easy because this is a pretty good team. You're not just going to run it down their throat and get out with an easy win. All those turnovers -- we've been so good all year protecting the ball and taking care of it, but it hit us this game. Fortunately the defense played so well that it wasn't a factor.
I tell you what, that Pharoh Cooper kid, I'm so happy for him because the Tennessee game he had an incredible game, but nobody knows about it because we found a way to lose it. But today he caught passes, he ran with it and had another touchdown pass. Dylan [Thompson] had a good solid game. We won't have a losing record in the regular season, we can be sure of that. Hopefully we can get ready for Clemson, have some confidence and play a lot smarter than we did today.
Dylan Thompson celebrates first TD Reception
Senior QB Dylan Thompson
It's just been a blessing to play at this school. All the seniors are really grateful to Coach Tanner and Coach Spurrier and everybody on the staff who had a part in getting here. We feel like this is the best university in the nation. It's a blessing to be a part of this school and guys have really done some special stuff here and I'm just thankful to have been a part of this.
I've probably run that play in practice, no exaggeration, probably 150-to-200 times over the past few years. I just beg him to throw it every game that we have it possibly in the game plan. I saw the signal at the end and it was everything I could do not to start going crazy. I knew it was going to be a touchdown whenever he signaled it ... Pharoh made a really good play.
The team will close out the regular season next Saturday, taking on Clemson. Game time is noon.
Damiere Byrd Reception