Oct. 07, 2017
South Carolina 48, Arkansas 22
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An unprecedented night by South Carolina's defense may have rescued the Gamecocks season and sent Arkansas back down a familiar, discouraging path.
The Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern) scored three touchdowns on defense - returning two interceptions and a fumble - in a 48-22 win over Arkansas (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
After a 75-yard touchdown drive by the Razorbacks tied it at 10 early in the second quarter, Arkansas gained just 48 yards in their next 18 plays. Those plays included an Austin Allen interception Skai Moore returned 34 yards for a TD and an Allen fumble that T.J. Brunson returned 74 yards for a score.
By the time the Razorbacks started moving the ball again, the Gamecocks led 41-10 in the fourth quarter.
''Everything disintegrated right in front of us,'' said Arkansas coach Brett Bielema, who will need three wins over five SEC teams he is a combined 8-15 against with the Razorbacks
South Carolina has no record of ever scoring three defensive touchdowns in the 125 years it has played football. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp, known for his defensive mind, couldn't remember three touchdowns from his favorite unit in his career. And Brunson - he had never been in the end zone in all his football life, either.
''That was fun. I hope to get to do it again,'' Brunson said.
And all that defense helped build the confidence of an offense that had seen several shaky games but come through with two more wins than the halfway point in 2016. Jake Bentley went 16 of 31 for 199 yards and three touchdowns, including a critical 18-yard pass to Bryan Edwards in the corner of the end zone with four seconds in the first half.
Bentley spread the ball around to nine receivers as South Carolina beat a team from the SEC West for the first time since 2013.
The Gamecocks gained 358 yards, scoring on five of eight possessions in the final three quarters. Bentley was sacked just once, a week after the offense line allowed seven sacks in a loss to Texas A&M.
''It takes the pressure off of us,'' Bentley said of the defense. ''Their confidence is through the roof.''
QUOTING COACH MUSCHAMP
"I'm really pleased with how our football team responded. It was a gut-wrenching loss last week. We spilled our guts and played really hard in the game. We just never really found a way to get a move in offensively or get a stop on defense. Always as a coach when you go through that and see the hurt in the locker room, you're worried about the next week regardless of the circumstances. I want to take this [opportunity] to thank our fans for an unbelievable environment. I thought we played a clean game, until late in the game defensively. That was embarrassing. I thought offensively we established the run well. We wore them down in the third quarter. We ran the ball well. Defensively, we had some huge plays with turnovers. I told [Arkansas head coach] Bret [Bielema] at the end, you can't win with those turnovers and turnovers with scores off of that. I'm extremely proud of our football team and the way we responded today."
With the game tied at 10 in the final minute of the first half, Jake Bentley hit Bryan Edwards with an 18-yard touchdown pass, giving the Gamecocks a 17-10 lead with four seconds remaining. South Carolina took a lead it would never relinquish heading into the halftime locker room.
3 -- The South Carolina defense recorded three touchdowns for the first time in modern history. Skai Moore and Keisean Nixon each returned an interception for a score while T.J. Brunson had a 73-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The Gamecocks will be back on the road in the SEC next week when they travel to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols lead the all-time series by a 25-8-2 count including a 16-2 advantage when the teams have played at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. However, Carolina has won four of the last seven meetings between the two SEC Eastern Division rivals, including a 24-21 win in Columbia last season.
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