CHARLOTTE, NC (WIS) - Ahead of Saturday's game, Will Muschamp said wide receiver Deebo Samuel needed to be involved for South Carolina regardless of what point in the game it was.
Samuel was heavily involved in Saturday's contest scoring three touchdowns to lead Carolina to a 35-28 win over NC State.
"Really proud of our football team," said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp. "Those guys fourth tremendously. They played a lot of snaps, I think 99 on defense. When they drop back and throw it 70-something times, it expenses you a lot. We got to stay on the field more in the second half but offensively, a very efficient half. Threw the ball extremely well throughout the game. Just really proud of how our guys fought."
It didn't take long for South Carolina to get on the board. Actually, it took 13 seconds to be exact. Deebo Samuel took the opening kickoff back 97 yards for the score. It was the eighth longest return in school history.
"He's a really good player,' Muschamp said of Samuel. "You start the game on special teams with a kickoff return and he outruns a lot of guys, but it was well blocked from my judgment on the sideline. I couldn't check with anybody in the press box. Kiel Pollard made a really good block and really did a nice job. We had that game planned to bring that back to the field. We'd been such a boundary return team last year and had a lot of success with it, that we brought it back to the field and it was really well-executed."
The Wolfpack answered on their first drive of the contest. Despite struggling to get their running game going, Ryan Finley scored on a 6-yard run to tie things at 7-7 with 8:56 left in the first.
Carolina regained the lead five minutes later. An 11-play drive was capped off with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jake Bentley to Rico Dowdle to put the Gamecocks back on top 14-7 with 3:53 left in the quarter.
Again, NC State managed to tie things up. Finley orchestrated a 9-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown to make it 14-14 with 46 seconds in the quarter.
The USC defense got in on the act in the second quarter. Dante Sawyer would force Stephen Louis to cough up the football and Rashad Fenton recovered the loose ball. That allowed Carolina to put together an 8-play, 40-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bentley to Samuel putting the Gamecocks up 21-14.
But North Carolina State continued to battle. Behind Finley's arm, the Pack scored in 10 plays on a 4-yard touchdown reception by Jakobi Meyers to lock the game up 21-21 before the half.
"I know we all are going to complain about pass rush, but it's hard to get there when the ball is out quickly," said Muschamp. "He is very efficient and I said it all week. He knows where to go with the football. He was very accurate and the ball was out very quickly."
Finley ended the half 27-of-34 passing for 296 yards and a touchdown. The Wolfpack ended the half with 343 total yards, which is more than two times the total number yards collected by South Carolina.
Samuel continued to have a monster game for Carolina in the second half. With 11:54 left in the third, the Chapman High product recorded his third touchdown of the day with a 39-yard catch giving USC a 28-21 lead.
"I honestly don't believe -- and he probably won't ever say it because he's a humble guy -- but I don't think anyone in the country can guard him, Especially the way we've trained together. I know where to put the ball when he's covered, put it in a place where he can make a play on it. That's what we did today."
Samuel finished the day with five catches for 83 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Bentley ended the game 17-of-29 passing for 215 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
The Gamecocks defense again got involved in giving the offense excellent field position. A sack by Dante Sawyer forced a fumble recovered at the NC State 13 by Bryson Allen-Williams. Two plays later, Dowdle carried it in from seven yards out pushing USC ahead 35-21.
"The turnovers, there's no excuse. There isn't," said NC State head coach Dave Doeren. "It's a skill set that we work on every single day. And as a staff, we have to look at how we're coaching it. First thing we do at practice every day is a turnover circuit. on both sides of the football. So, it is something that is focused on."
NC State wasn't ready to call it quits, however. A short punt from deep within USC territory gave the Wolfpack great field position and they would score on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Finley to Jaylen Samuels. That play made it 35-28 with 12:21 left in the game.
Ryan Finley was 45-of-64 for 415 yards and two touchdowns for North Carolina State. The Wolfpack had 504 yards of total offense.
NC State would get one last shot to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. After driving 64 yards down the field, Ryan Finley had three tries to get it in the end zone for his team. In the end, his final attempt would be knocked away by safety D.J. Smith to salt away the victory.
"That comes from preparation, doing a lot of scramble drills, and playing after the whistle in practice," said Gamecocks senior safety D.J, Smith. "I feel like our preparation really helped us out.
South Carolina will now turn their attention to Mizzou, who defeated Missouri State on Saturday behind seven passing touchdowns from Drew Lock.
The Battle of Columbia takes place at Faurot Field on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.