COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Homecoming could not be any sweeter for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
While fans got a chance to witness the women's basketball team receive their national championship rings, they also were sent home smiling after the Gamecocks picked up a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt.
"I'm really proud of our football team," said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp. "Vanderbilt did some special things, especially offensively. We didn't play very well defensively, but I'm going to give Vanderbilt 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."
Vanderbilt (3-5) wasted little time getting on the board. In less than 3 minutes, the Commodores stormed 75 yards in six plays. The drive was capped with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to Khari Blasingame to make it 7-0 in favor of Vanderbilt.
South Carolina (6-2) responded on their ensuing drive. The Gamecocks built a 4-play, 75-yard drive that saw Jake Bentley score on a 19-yard run to tie things up 7-7.
Carolina would take the lead with about a minute left in the opening quarter. The Gamecocks would capitalize on an unnecessary roughness penalty on fourth down. Four plays later, A.J. Turner cashed in with a 1-yard dive to put the Gamecocks ahead 14-7.
"Because Rico's down, it means a lot more opportunities to be able to carry the ball," Turner said. "Coach Bentley always says when you get the ball, just make the most of it -- even if the line isn't blocking. Create your own yards. And that's what I've been trying to do."
Turner ended the night with a career-high 121 rushing yards and the previously mentioned touchdown on 15 carries.
Vandy cut into the lead in the second quarter. With 7:25 to go in the half, Shurmur connected with C.J. Duncan for an 8-yard touchdown pass. However, D.J Wonnum ensured the Gamecocks would remain ahead 14-13 by blocking the extra point attempt by Tommy Openshaw.
USC added to their lead with 5:28 left in the half. Bentley would find Shi Smith on a 36-yard pass to push Carolina ahead 21-13.
Bentley finished the night 19-of-29 passing for 174 yards and this touchdown.
After taking a 24-13 lead into halftime, South Carolina surrendered another passing touchdown to Kyle Shurmur. The 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior hit Kalija Lipscomb on a 47-yard pass to cut Carolina's lead down to 24-20 with 8:55 left in the third.
However, Bentley's second rushing touchdown of the night would push Carolina ahead by double digits once again. The Carolina quarterback scampered in from 11 yards out this time extending the Gamecocks' lead to 31-20.
Bentley also had 47 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
"We felt like there were a couple of designed runs that we felt like we could get on the perimeter because of the way their ends played and it didn't overlap very well," Muschamp said when asked about Bentley running the ball more. "It's something we've had. We used it against Tennessee. We used it again today. We felt like it worked well for us."
Parker White added a second field goal in the fourth quarter while Vandy put one more touchdown on the board, but the Commodores would ultimately fall losing their fifth straight contest.
As for the Gamecocks, the win is their third consecutive victory and it now makes them bowl eligible. While it's a nice thought, Will Muschamp and company have now turned their attention to Georgia in a matchup that has SEC East title implications -- a concept that really needs no emphasis for Carolina.
"They understand it's a big ballgame against a very good team," said Muschamp. "So, I don't think me standing up 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."