COLUMBIA - Facing the Southeastern Conference's top rusher for the second time in three weeks, the University of South Carolina's defensive philosophy seemed to be that if No. 22 Texas A&M were to come away with a win on Saturday at Williams-Brice …
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COLUMBIA - Facing the Southeastern Conference's top rusher for the second time in three weeks, the University of South Carolina's defensive philosophy seemed to be that if No. 22 Texas A&M were to come away with a win on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium then it would be accomplished through the air.
The Gamecocks held Trayveon Williams in check for most of the game, but the A&M junior running back was able to push his way through for a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:36 left in the game that would put the game out of reach as the Aggies held on for a hard-fought 26-23 win to run their series record against USC to 5-0.
Williams, who passed former SEC rushing leader Bennie Snell of Kentucky in the Aggies' 20-14 overtime win over the Wildcats last week, closed the game with 78 yards and the late score on 19 carries. Williams, who went into halftime with just 16 yards on seven attempts, had a long run of 16 yards as he closed with a 4.1 yard average per carry.
"Texas A&M has a good team. We knew that coming in," said USC head coach Will Muschamp, whose team dropped to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play. "I thought our guys played extremely hard in the game. We did some things we felt like we needed to. We had some shots in the run game early on offense, just too many self-inflicted issues finishing plays down the field. We had opportunities, and we've got to finish."
Outside of an early drive that saw Crestwood High School alum Ty'Son Williams run for 44 yards on three carries, including rushes of 27 and 14 yards, the USC running game was non-existent. That drive would end with quarterback Jake Bentley throwing an end zone interception to Charles Oliver, leading to the first of two first-half field goals for TAMU. A fumble, after a 32-yard Bryan Edwards punt return to the Aggie 42, led to placekicker Seth Smalls' only miss of the day, from 42 yards, in five field goal chances.
"The two turnovers killed us, but a huge punt return," Muschamp said. "We got great field position, momentum, and we squandered that opportunity for a red zone score there (on the interception), whether it was a field goal or a touchdown. Those are the frustrating things for us to overcome right now. Our guys continue to battle and put ourselves in a position at the end to have an opportunity and didn't get it done, bottom line."
Ty'Son Williams led Gamecock rushers with 51 yards on seven attempts, while Bentley and Rico Dowdle both tallied 19 yards on four and seven rushes, respectively.
With both teams' running games being stymied by the opposing defenses, the game had become a matchup between quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Bentley. Mond won the first half, leading the Aggies to a 13-0 lead at the break, but Bentley led two Carolina touchdown drives with successful 2-point conversions to forge a 16-16 tie after three quarters.
Both of Carolina's 2-point conversions, the Gamecocks' first attempts of the season, came on passes from Bentley to Edwards. The program's last successful conversion came against South Florida on Dec.29, 2016.
TAMU answered with an 11-play, 55-yard drive that would once again come up short of the end zone. Small was called upon to boot his fourth field goal of the day, this one from 39 yards, to put the Aggies back on top, 19-16, with 9:16 on the game clock.
USC had one last chance after Trayveon Williams' late scoring run as Bentley took the Gamecocks 75 yards in eight plays, closing the 48-second drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The quick drive was aided by a pass interference penalty and a personal foul for targeting against TAMU, the second of two targeting calls on plays involving a hit on Samuel.
With 48 seconds to play, the Gamecocks lined up for an onside kick attempt. Randrecous Davis came up with the ball, but officials ruled that the ball had been illegally touched by a Gamecock player before it traveled the necessary 10 yards, sealing the win for the Aggies.
Mond closed his night 25 for 37 with 353 yards passing and one touchdown, a 4-yard pass to Jace Sternberger. Much like last week in a 37-35 victory over Missouri, USC's defense held the Aggies to field goals on four of six scoring drives.
While Mond was effective through both the air and on the ground, adding 25 yards on 13 carries, Bentley had a largely uneven effort. While Bentley, who hit on just 17 of 35 passes for 223 yards, misfired on a number of his passes, he also saw many drops by receivers that didn't help his final numbers. Bentley threw for three touchdowns but also threw an interception in the end zone to end Carolina's best scoring chance of the first half.
Bentley's other two touchdown passes went for 22 yards to Shi Smith and 33 yards to Chavis Dawkins on a flea flicker. The Smith score came on a drive that saw the Union County product draw a personal foul on a TAMU defender then commit a PF of his own two plays later, while Dawkins' score came on the Byrnes graduate's first reception of the season.
The Aggies' first touchdown came on a 5-play, 94-yard drive that turned into a Sternberger highlight reel. The junior tight end hauled in a Mond pass and ended with a 53-yard gain, carrying would-be tackler Steven Montac more than 20 yards down the field before Montac received assistance to make the stop at the USC. Two plays later, Mond went back to his wide receiver for a 4-yard scoring pass, putting TAMU up 10-0 with 4:19 to go in the half.
Sternberger ended with seven receptions for 145 yards while teammate Quartney Davis hauled in nine passes for 127 yards.
Samuel led the USC receiving corps with seven receptions for 88 yards, with a long of 32, while Bryan Edwards had four catches for 42 yards and Smith added 51 yards on three completions.
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