COLUMBIA, SC (WLTX) - Saturday night was the perfect night for football inside Williams Brice Stadium. It was also the best conditions for the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 SEC) to upset No.18 Tennessee (5-3, 2-3 SEC) 24-21.
There was much talk about a night game in the Brice for this matchup between two teams which traditionally end up close.
From the offense to the defense and even some special teams USC made the plays when they needed to. Whether it be Jake Bentley's touchdown pass to KC Crosby in the fourth quarter or Jamarcus King's pivotal interceptions this team is already looking a lot different after their bye week.
For starters the Gamecocks got off to a great start scoring on their opening drive. Bentley hit his favorite target Deebo Samuel for a 21 yard pass-which Samuel caught one-handed while being interfered. That set up Rico Dowdle for a short touchdown run.
Dowdle could be the next premiere back for the Gamecocks. The freshman finished with a career high 27 carries for 127 yards which led another strong rushing performance for the backs and the offensive line. They generated 158 on the ground which their third best output all year.
Tennessee benefited from a penalty and ejection on USC defensive back Chris Lammons and Jalen Hurd's one yard score tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter.
The defense showed up again as Jamarcus King picked of Joshua Dobbs and gave the SC offense a short field early in the second quarter. The freshman to freshman connection between Bentley and Bryan Edwards was good for 17 yards through the air and it's 14-7 Gamecocks.
USC led 14-7 and halftime and 17-7 late in the third but Tennessee as you may have heard is a second half comeback team and they did what they usually do.
Evan Berry of the Volunteers took the kickoff after Elliott Fry's field goal and returned it 100 yards to the endzone to make it a 17-14 game in favor of USC going into the fourth quarter.
But it looked like it was over as Bentley connected with tight end KC Crosby for a 35 yard touchdown pass with 9:58 to go. Bentley was an efficient 15-20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions in his second straight start.
However, the Volunteers answered again as Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings on the ensuing possession to make it a 24-21 game with 7:03 to go.
The Gamecock defense has a goal of holding opponents to 14 points or less and create 4 turnovers. They didn't meet that goal but they did enough.
Carolina punted to the Volunteers with 3:42 left still leading 24-21. Dobbs drops back to throw on first down and King was there for his second interception of the game. USC created three turnovers and the Volunteers offense only generated 14 points. They did this without defensive backs Lammons and DJ Smith who was ejected in the second half for targeting.
The Gamecocks milked the clock and punted again and this time Tennessee got in position for a 58 yard field for Aaron Medley with five seconds left. But Medley made no Rocky Top music for the Vols as his kick falls short as the Brice erupts with joy and a 24-21 victory in hand.
This game could've gone either way. The Vols have been dealing with injuries, lost a heartbreaker to Georgia and fell to Alabama but had a bye week to prepare. USC ended their three game losing streak after a bye week with their 34-28 win over UMass last week and went with the frosh, Bentley, at QB. So both squads had something to play for and to prove given the circumstances. Perfect conditions for another close USC Tennessee matchup.
USC is now 4-4. Those four wins have surpassed their win total from last season. This is also the first consecutive wins this season for the Gamecocks. Will Muschamp improves to 5-0 as a head coach against Tennessee as well.
Now South Carolina wraps up their five game homestand with Missouri next Saturday at 4 pm. After that they are at Florida, home to Western Carolina and then play Clemson in Death Valley to wrap up the season. If they win two of their next four games they will become bowl eligible. Perfect conditions for a team that looks to be turning the corner.