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South Carolina secures 28-3 win in sloppy season finale against Akron

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So that was kind of a mess.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks rode a successful first half to their seventh victory of the season, outlasting the messy weather, overcoming even sloppier play, and topping the Akron Zips 28-3 on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina started the game moving down the field well, on the strength of Rico Dowdle rushes and a couple Deebo Samuel sweeps, but the Gamecocks ultimately stalled and had to punt away their first possession. The South Carolina defense forced a quick stop of its own, getting to Akron quarterback Kato Nelson as Kingsley Enagbare collected his first sack as a Gamecock.

With the Gamecocks setting up shop in Zips territory after a nice Bryan Edwards punt return, they got on the board within just a couple plays after a 15-yard Samuel reception. Akron answered, putting together a 5 minute, 30 second drive that ended with a 45-yard field goal when the Gamecocks made a red zone stop.

Jake Bentley wasted no time getting back to work, staking South Carolina to a 14-3 lead when he tossed a 70-yard touchdown to a wide open Bryan Edwards, who had crept behind the Akron defense on a busted coverage.

On the Zips’ following possession, the Gamecocks forced another field goal try, this one clanging off the left upright from 52 yards out to keep the score 14-3. Bentley looked mortal on the next drive, firing multiple incomplete passes as Akron started to bring some effective pressure.

The Gamecock defense came up with a turnover, though, when R.J. Roderick laid a big hit on the Zips’ Daishawn Brimage and Sherrod Greene scooped up the resulting fumble. Unfortunately, South Carolina gave it right back when Bentley’s pass to the end zone intended for K.C. Crosby ended up in the hands of an Akron defender.

After the South Carolina defense responded to force a quick Zips punt, the ever-versatile special teams hero Samuel showed off yet another way to score. Akron’s punter couldn’t corral a high snap in the slippery weather, and Samuel raced after the loose ball to pounce on it in the end zone, coming up with possession in the scrum to give the Gamecocks a 21-3 advantage.

South Carolina’s defense again got to Akron’s Nelson, forcing another quick Zips possession to come to an end. Akron pinned the Gamecocks just inside the 10-yard line, but South Carolina found some breathing room with a key third-down reception by Jacob August and then a big gain on the ground from Dowdle. Edwards then came up with an incredible 27-yard catch to put the Gamecocks deep in the red zone, and Samuel completed a hat trick with a 5-yard touchdown reception — giving South Carolina 28-3 halftime lead.

Both teams came out of the locker room with a whole lot of nothing on display, perhaps due in part to the increasingly wet weather. The Gamecocks and Zips traded punts, Dowdle fumbled, South Carolina forced a turnover on downs, Bentley threw his second red zone interception of the game, Akron punted again, and then both teams exchanged fumbles in what was a very busy and yet unproductive third quarter. To make matters worse, stalwart offensive lineman Zack Bailey went down with a lower-leg injury that required an air cast, and needed to be carted off the field.

Continuing the trend, the fourth quarter started with the Gamecocks turning it over on downs, as Mon Denson couldn’t get the inches required for the first and was blown up in the backfield. After the teams traded punts again, South Carolina got revenge when Engabare snuffed out an Akron fourth down attempt. From there, though, the fourth quarter was another comedy of errors, and neither team seriously threatened to score as the final margin remained 28-3.

South Carolina (7-5) now awaits its bowl destination, which will be revealed tomorrow after the conference championship games are in the books. With the victory, coach Will Muschamp surpassed former coach Steve Spurrier with most wins in his first three seasons at the helm of the Gamecocks.