The South Carolina Gamecocks finally got the breakout offensive performance fans have been wanting to see, leaning on the strength of their rushing attack to romp past the visiting Charlotte 49ers 56-20 on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium.
The first quarter was a bumpy ride, with the Gamecocks getting off to a hot start offensively before stalling on the doorstep of the 49ers’ end zone and having to settle for a 25-yard Mitch Jeter field goal instead. Charlotte countered quickly, marching along under the direction of veteran quarterback Chris Reynolds, who found pay dirt with a 2-yard scoring strike to Jake Clemons that put the Niners up 7-3 as the opening stanza wound to a close.
Fortunately, South Carolina went right to work on its next drive, leaning on the running game to power down the field on the strength of MarShawn Lloyd, who led the Gamecocks into the end zone off an impressive hurdle that culminated in a 25-yard touchdown scamper to stake USC to a 10-7 advantage.
Unfortunately, Reynolds sliced up the depleted Gamecock defense once again, tossing a 14-yard score to Victor Tucker that put the 49ers back up 14-10 and made Charlotte a distressing 6-for-6 on third downs. South Carolina countered, though, once again turning to the rushing attack — this time spearheaded by Christian Beal-Smith — with Beal-Smith punching in a go-ahead touchdown on fourth and goal to go up 17-14.
The Gamecock defense appeared to come up big at last on Charlotte’s next possession, when pressure on Reynolds helped create a tipped pass that was intercepted by DQ Smith. Unfortunately, replay showed that Smith double-clutched the ball and it hit the ground, so the play was overturned — but South Carolina’s defense held again, turning up more pressure and finally forcing the first Charlotte punt of the game with 1 minute, 36 seconds left in the half. The Gamecocks took advantage of the opportunity and hustled to the whistle, with Jalen Brooks darting 40 yards after a catch to help set up a 27-yard field goal that put USC up 20-14 heading into the locker room.
South Carolina got the second half off to a good start, forcing the first Charlotte three-and-out of the game after a huge second-down sack got the 49ers behind schedule. The Gamecocks cashed in on their ensuing possession, with Lloyd rumbling 14 yards into the end zone on another impressive carry to put USC up 28-14 after Traveon Kenion successfully flipped into the end zone for a 2-point conversion (which would have left me hospitalized). South Carolina added an immediate exclamation point, as a tipped pass in plus territory resulted in a Brad Johnson interception and a third Lloyd touchdown to put USC up 35-14 in a hurry.
Things didn’t get any better for Charlotte on its next possession, as Reynolds was hit while he threw and tossed a pick to DQ Smith, who got to log an interception for real this time. Beal-Smith made the 49ers pay, rumbling for 27 yards and then punching in a score to stretch the South Carolina advantage to 42-14 with about 6 minutes left in the third quarter, officially breaking the game open.
After the Gamecocks scored 32 unanswered points, Charlotte pulled Reynolds at the start of the fourth quarter in favor of Xavier Williams, who — unfortunately for the Niners — was intercepted in fairly short order by Cam Smith, who jumped a route to rob a Charlotte receiver. Juju McDowell then got his chance to join the rushing touchdown party on the Gamecocks’ ensuing possession, bouncing off an attempt to stand him up and making the lead 49-14.
After Josh Vann was unfortunate enough to have a 75-yard punt return touchdown wiped on a block in the back call, the Gamecocks made a quarterback substitution of their own, rolling out Luke Doty. Doty, however, experienced some misfortune of his own, throwing an interception with about 8 minutes left. The 49ers cashed in, with another quarterback, James Foster, lofting a 45-yard touchdown to Elijah Spencer to make it 45-20 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt. South Carolina had a little more left offense in the tank, though, as Doty hurled a 52-yard bomb to Corey Rucker to close the scoring and provide the final 56-20 margin.
The Gamecocks (2-2, 0-2 SEC) face S.C. State next week at noon in Williams-Brice, which will hopefully provide another chance for them to fine-tune some things before the SEC grind begins.