If you like your football with a whole lot of offense and virtually no defense in sight, you got exactly what you wanted when the South Carolina Gamecocks out-dueled the Ole Miss Rebels in a high-flying, blink-and-someone-just-scored 48-44 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Appropriately, the game started with a bang, as Deebo Samuel took advantage of some confusion on the opening kickoff and ran it to the house for his first kick return touchdown of the season, and the fourth of his career — which tied an SEC record. Ole Miss marched right down the field, but as it’s done much of the season, the South Carolina defense stiffened in the red zone and forced a field goal.
Staked to a 7-3 lead, the Gamecocks went back to work, covering 75 yards in just over 2 minutes thanks largely to a 50-yard run from Ty’Son Williams, who capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge for a 14-3 advantage. Ole Miss again reached the South Carolina red zone, but this time D.J. Wonnum ended the threat when he jumped on a fumbled pitch.
The Gamecock offense finally cooled off a bit on its next possession, settling for a 20-yard Parker White field goal after failing to capitalize on an incredible 38-yard catch by Shi Smith that had South Carolina knocking on the door. Down 17-3 at the start of the second quarter, the Rebels used the opportunity to catch up, with the elusive and accurate Jordan Ta’amu guiding Ole Miss methodically down the field and letting Scottie Phillips finish the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run.
South Carolina punted for the first time on its ensuing possession, and the Rebels once again looked like a threat to find the end zone. But the Gamecock defense held, forcing another field goal, and Ole Miss closed the gap to 17-13.
South Carolina responded immediately with a 75-yard touchdown strike from Jake Bentley to Bryan Edwards, who snagged the ball with one hand while holding off a defender and managing to keep his balance into the end zone. But Ole Miss had an answer of its own, using a big catch from A.J. Brown and a Ta’amu scramble to hit paydirt and bring the score to 24-20 Gamecocks.
South Carolina finally mounted a lengthy scoring drive to give its defense a break, but unfortunately had to settle for another field goal when a holding call took an A.J. Turner touchdown off the board. Ole Miss made the Gamecocks pay, tying the game at 27 on another Phillips run as an explosive but injury-riddled first half drew to a close.
The Rebels received the third quarter kickoff and tacked on another field goal to take their first lead of the game at 30-27. With momentum trending in Ole Miss’ direction, the Gamecocks mounted exactly the kind of drive they needed, covering 71 yards in 1:49 and getting Josh Vann his first career touchdown on a five-yard reception. The Rebels punched back, though, and zipped down the field to net another Phillips rushing score, this one a two-yard plunge.
The fourth quarter opened with Ole Miss holding a 37-34 advantage, and South Carolina was starting to sputter offensively. The Rebels widened their advantage to 44-34 with a crisp 2:20 scoring drive that ended with a Isaiah Woullard touchdown, and at this point, things looked dire for South Carolina. But Samuel returned the kickoff for nearly 40 yards to set the Gamecocks up in plus territory, and Turner finally got a touchdown to stick when it ran it in from three yards out.
Now trailing 44-41, the Gamecocks finally managed to force an Ole Miss punt. Unfortunately, South Carolina turned in a quick three-and-out of its own — but got it right back when the Rebels stalled again. Finally, with about seven minutes left in the game, South Carolina made its move when Mon Denson broke free for a 69-yard scamper down to the Rebels’ 4-yard line and Bentley took it in himself a couple plays later. Now clinging to a 48-44 lead, the Gamecocks had to sweat out a couple more Ole Miss possessions, but forced a punt on one and a turnover on downs on the other to secure the wild victory.
The Gamecocks won their third straight against the Rebels to improve to 5-3 (4-3 SEC), and will continue their road trip next week with a date against No. 11 Florida. Given the freakish spate of injuries South Carolina suffered during this game, the Gamecocks’ health will be something to watch moving into next week.