COLUMBIA - On a cool and soggy day at a well under capacity Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel made the most of the first half of his final home football game in the Garnet and Black.
The Gamecocks led the Zips 28-3 …
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The Gamecocks led the Zips 28-3 at the half, with Samuel responsible for three of those scores. Two came in standard Deebo fashion, on receptions of 15 and five yards, with the third coming on a first for the talented wideout -- a fumble recovery in the end zone on a botched Akron punt attempt.
"Great first half. We played extremely well," said USC head coach Will Muschamp. "He's (Samuel) been a great football player here at the University of South Carolina. Fought through a lot of adversity last year. When he's been on the field he's been an electric player in college football."
The always humble Samuel, who closed with four receptions for 33 yards, summed up his record-setting career at USC by saying, "Coach puts me in positions to go out there and make plays (and) I just go out there and do what they ask me to do."
USC's other first-half score came on a 70-yard pass from quarterback Jake Bentley to wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who closed the half and game with five receptions for 109 yards.
Edwards expanded on what makes Samuel such a special player.
"Just being an unselfish guy, going out there and always doing what the coach asks, he always does that," Edwards said. "He goes out there and attacks the game the way a player is supposed to. Hats off to him."
Not much positive would happen in the second half for either team as a scoreless 30 minutes would see the game end with the same 28-3 score as the Gamecocks ran their record to 7-5 and now await the announcement of their bowl destination and opponent on Sunday
The third quarter saw South Carolina's five drives end in a punt, two fumbles, an interception and on downs. Akron also fumbled the ball away twice, with Zips quarterback Kato Nelson adding an interception for a total of six turnovers. The highlight for the Gamecocks was a 61-yard run by running back Mon Denson, with the quarter ending in somber fashion as star offensive lineman Zack Bailey was carted off with what Muschamp would later call a fibula injury.
"It was a big run," said Denson, who closed with 110 yards on 17 carries for his second 100-yard rushing effort of the season. "I think I should have scored. Getting in the box helped the offense out. The key to it was I got the offense going."
Denson served as a good complementary runner to Rico Dowdle, who added 86 yards on 13 carries.
The fourth quarter was not much better, at least on the offensive side, as seven combined drives ended in five punts and two stops on downs.
The passing games for both teams struggled on a day that saw wet conditions throughout. Bentley connected on just 14 of 27 passes for 199 yards with the three touchdowns and two interceptions while Nelson ended up 19 for 39 for 178 yards for the Zips, who finished 4-8.
"(We) bounced around pretty good (in the first half), just got sloppy in the second half," Muschamp said. "At times the conditions catered to not throwing it extremely well."
Akron's lone score came on a 45-yard Nick Gasser field goal that followed Samuel's 15-yard touchdown reception on the Gamecocks' second possession. The Zips' score culminated a 12-play, 47-yard drive powered by two 13-yard Nelson passes to Kwadarrius Smith and Mykel Bennett.
After Bentley's bomb to Edwards, the Zips drove 47 yards in eight plays before stalling at the USC 35. Gasser was called upon for a 52-yard attempt that sailed wide right with 19 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
Though the game was played in less than ideal weather conditions in front of a sparse crowd, Muschamp said the extra game, which was added after a scheduled game with Marshall was cancelled, and additional practice time should benefit his team heading into its bowl game.
"A lot of young guys, especially on the defensive side of the ball, played and we needed this game," Muschamp said. "I appreciate (Athletics Director) Coach (Ray) Tanner for making this happen. We needed to get as many snaps as possible as the young players continue to develop.
"Really proud of our team this year. We faced a lot of adversity. We faced a lot of things out of our control as far as injuries and such. They kept playing, kept hanging in there, kept fighting. That says a lot about, No. 1, the individuals in that locker room and No. 2, the culture that our staff has been able to create within our organization and our community. Really proud of these guys."
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