COLUMBIA — Quarterback Jake Bentley accounted for three touchdowns and running back A.J. Turner became the first University of South Carolina rusher to go over 100 yards as a late defensive stop preserved a 34-27 Gamecock victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
With the win, South Carolina gained bowl eligibility for the 12th time in 13 seasons, running its overall record to 6-2 while improving to 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference heading into a showdown at undefeated and SEC East-leading Georgia next Saturday. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp looked at becoming bowl eligible as more of an expectation than an accomplishment for the Gamecock program and really did not put much emphasis on the upcoming game against Georgia, which ran its record to 8-0 and 5-0 with a 42-7 thrashing of Florida on Saturday.
“We’ll take it as the next ball game,” said Muschamp, a former walk-on safety for Georgia from 1991-94. “At the end of the day, our guys know that it’s an important game. They understand it’s a big ball game against a very good team. So I don’t think me standing in front of our team and saying it is going to make any difference. At the end of the day, they know it’s a big game and that we need to prepare extremely well. That’s what we’ll do.”
Trailing 34-27, Vandy took over at its 33 with 2:48 on the clock. A pass interference penalty against Chris Lammons and four Kyle Shurmur completions for 33 yards helped to move the ball to the USC 40. The drive stalled there as Shurmur, the Vandy quarterback, missed on his final two pass attempts, turning the ball over on downs with 1:10 to go and sealing the win for USC.
Vandy’s beleaguered defense, which came in surrendering more than 240 yards rushing and 413 yards of total offense per game, gave up 386 yards to the Gamecocks, including 212 yards rushing on 37 attempts. The Commodores, behind Shurmur’s 333 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-49 passing, ended with 440 yards total offense.
“I’m really proud of our football team today,” Muschamp said. “Vanderbilt did some special things, especially offensively. We didn’t play very well defensively, but I’m going to give Vanderbilt some credit on that. They kept us on the edges as far as quick screens and edge run game. That was disappointing. You have to give them some credit, too. Kyle Shurmur competed extremely hard in this game. He had some really nice throws.”
Bentley and Turner proved to be a good 1-2 punch for USC, with Bentley finding success through the air and on the ground. The sophomore signal caller hit on 19 of 29 passes for 174 yards and one score, on a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Shi Smith, and ran for 47 yards on six attempts, scoring two touchdowns. Fittingly, No. 19 ran for 19 yards on his first career rushing touchdown and added an 11-yard scoring run.
“Offensively, I think we stayed balanced moving the ball,” Muschamp said. “I think we ran the ball extremely well, especially there at the end of the game with 1:18 on the clock to finish the ball game. That was really important. That’s over 200 yards rushing or right at it the last three SEC ball games. That’s a huge improvement from where we’ve been.
“We need to be more efficient in the throwing game and some things. We had a couple of reads there that were missed, whether it was the receiver or Jake. I have to go back and look at it. I thought our protection was good. It was a good, hard-fought ball game.”
Turner followed up an 86-yard rushing effort in a 15-9 win over Tennessee with another strong outing agasinst the Commodores. The sophomore from Clifton, Va., ran for a career-high 121 yards on 15 carries, scoring on a 1-yard dive, and added four receptions for 24 yards.
“A.J. Turner ran extremely hard, again I’m extremely proud of A.J.,” Muschamp said. “You see the power that he has when he’s able to run through tackles.”