S Carolina stays alive in SEC East with 34-27 win over Vandy
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — On the expected legs of A.J. Turner and the surprising legs of quarterback Jake Bentley, South Carolina is finally back in an Southeastern Conference East Division race in November.
Bentley, who came into the game with 14 yards rushing all season, ran six times for 47 yards and the first two TDs on the ground in his college career to lead South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) to a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Turner ran 15 times for a career best 121 yards.
The Gamecocks still need help for only a second division title since joining the SEC in 1992. Even if they beat No. 3 Georgia on the road next weekend, they will still be a game behind the Bulldogs but with the tiebreaker.
A new weapon emerged Saturday. When Bentley takes off, it's a deep-breath moment for the Gamecocks. Offensive lineman Zach Bailey used a curse word to say what it scares out of him. Bentley said when he has just one defender in front of him, he tries to make what he called "the slowest juke move ever seen."
But each of the sophomore's runs was huge. Two went for touchdowns, one turned a second-and-15 into a third-and-2 and another went for 8 yards on a second-and-9.
Bentley also completed 19 of his 29 passes for 174 yards.
Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-5) had two players ejected for targeting — defensive back Zaire Jones and linebacker Charles Wright, the team's sack leader, on a hit on Bentley just after he released the ball.
Bentley said he is used to taking shots. "Anytime a quarterback runs it's like a little minnow with a pool of sharks," he said.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said he wasn't going to argue the specifics of either targeting call, but he isn't sure the rule is being interpreted correctly. He felt his players made hard tackles that did not target the head or a helpless player.
"I saw a young man tackle a quarterback," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "We've got to get that right."
The Commodores finished with 10 penalties for 100 yards. The final one might have been the most costly. A holding penalty by tight end Sam Dobbs stalled a potential game-tying drive and Kyle Shurmur overthrew Caleb Scott on fourth-and-2 with just over a minute to go at the South Carolina 40.
Shurmur threw for a season-best 333 yards and four touchdowns.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp plans nothing special next week to emphasize the stakes at third-ranked Georgia.
"Our guys know it's an important game. They understand what is standing in front of them and me telling them is not going to make any difference," Muschamp said.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores assured themselves of their 23rd losing record in the SEC in the 26 seasons since the league split into divisions in 1992 ... Vanderbilt has allowed 10 points or more in 12 of 18 quarters in the SEC this season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have only lost to Vanderbilt twice this century, in 2007 and 2008. The Gamecocks lead the series 22-4 since joining the SEC ... South Carolina is assured of not having a losing season in the SEC for the first time since ending a run of three straight 6-2 SEC seasons in 2013.
The win makes South Carolina bowl eligible for the second straight season. But Muschamp said he didn't even mention that in the locker room and his players brushed it off too.
"We've got a lot more games to play and bigger goals to achieve," Bentley said.
Mason said a loss always hurts, but he was delighted to see his team showed fight and appeared to get some swagger back after four blowouts.
"This is the football team I thought it was. We don't get this one back, but we will move forward," Mason said,
The Commodores finish the SEC season with home games against Kentucky and Missouri and on the road at Tennessee.
"You're damn right," Mason said when asked if his team could finish strong like last season when it won two of its last three. "This football team is taking a step in the right direction."
Vanderbilt: The Commodores get to finally go outside the SEC again, hosting Western Kentucky.
South Carolina: South Carolina heads to No. 3 Georgia, where a win by the Bulldogs almost seals the SEC East title, while a win by the Gamecocks keeps their hopes alive.
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