USF beat South Carolina, 46-39, in an exciting Birmingham Bowl Thursday afternoon.
South Carolina was able to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie things up at 39 to force overtime. On first and 10 on the Bulls’ possession of overtime, USF QB Quinton Flowers found tight end Elkanah Dillon in the end zone to take a seven-point lead.
Then it was South Carolina’s turn. A face mask penalty gave South Carolina an extra 10 yards to get to the 15 yard line, but USF forced a Gamecock fourth and 6. Carolina’s Jake Bentley was sacked and then fumbled, which was recovered by USF to seal the 46-39 victory.
USF scored the day’s first 15 points and had an advantage all afternoon. The Bulls’ lead got up to 18 after a Tajee Fullwood interception runback in the third quarter. The Gamecocks also lost a fumble inside USF’s five-yard line, and things seemed entirely hopeless. (More on this problem later.)
But South Carolina didn’t completely go away, even when it looked like it would. The Gamecocks’ cut their deficit to one possession on an impossible-looking fourth-down ricochet touchdown catch by Bryan Edwards, with just less than 10 minutes left.
South Carolina’s defense got a stop after that, and quarterback Jake Bentley brought the Gamecocks back down the field, down 39-31. Then the Gamecocks fumbled again, with A.J. Turner two yards away from setting up a game-tying two-point attempt.
But the Gamecocks improbably kept pressing. After the fumble at the two, the defense forced another stop, and Chris Lammons returned USF’s punt to exactly the same spot. The Cocks didn’t fumble this time, and Turner scored a touchdown. Bentley found Hayden Hurst in the back of the end zone for the tying two-pointer, and it was 39-all with just more than a minute left to play.
USF was playing a sort of transitional game. Head coach Willie Taggart left to take the same job at Oregon after the regular season, and the Bulls moved quickly to hire ex-Texas coach Charlie Strong to replace him. But co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist was standing in for this game, in a one-and-done situation before giving the reins to Strong. Weist coached that way, calling for a trick two-point conversion play in the first quarter and letting USF’s offense run free just as Taggart used to do.
South Carolina didn’t have a bad season. Everything in this world is relative, but the Gamecocks were supposed to be quite terrible in Will Muschamp’s first season. They played at an adequate level in a lousy SEC East, and that they got to a bowl game at all is a sign that the Cocks made reasonably quick progress. Still, they’ve got a ways to go.
This was USF’s eighth bowl game all-time and South Carolina’s 21st. The Bulls won four of their first seven, while South Carolina was 8-12.
The Gamecocks made bowls every year from 2008 to 2014 under Steve Spurrier, then missed out after Spurrier retired midyear in 2015. Birmingham was not only a return to the postseason for the Gamecocks but a third consecutive trip to the same game for Muschamp — with three different teams. That’s consistency.