ORLANDO, Fla. — As he ran South Carolina’s clinching touchdown into the teeth of Central Florida’s student section, running back Mike Davis held index finger to facemask to make his point clear.
This was his game. Time for UCF’s sellout home crowd to go home in silence.
After a scoreless first half, Davis carried No. 12 USC on his back Saturday as the Gamecocks erased a 10-point deficit to beat UCF 28-25 before a sellout crowd of 47,605 at Bright House Networks Stadium. Davis had 17 yards on five carries in the first half. He finished with 167 yards on carries and three second-half touchdowns.
“Those guys, they had the momentum,” Davis said of UCF. “So I felt that sooner or later I’d have to make a big play to quiet the crowd and to get our team rolling, to get (our) guys pumped up.”
Davis’ first touchdown was a 53-yard run that put the Gamecocks on the scoreboard. The sophomore tailback now has three 50-yard runs this season, most in the SEC. He entered Saturday tied with LSU’s Jeremy Hill.
His three touchdowns gave him six on the season, which also ties Hill for the SEC lead.
Davis said he didn’t plead for more carries at halftime. His frustration was in the team’s 10-0 hole, not his lack of touches. The tailback said he was feeling a little ill Saturday, thanks to roommates Chris Moody, Kendric Salley and T.J. Gurley cranking the air condition in their apartment this week — even when it rained outside.
“I guess I just have to keep going in there and cutting the AC off, put it on low,” Davis said.
Regardless, Davis handled his second-half workout with ease. Early in the third quarter, it became clear USC simply needed to keep giving its lead running back the football.
“He’s a good back, and we gave it to him,” Spurrier said. “We gave it to him a lot like we used to do with Marcus Lattimore. If you’ve been around, Marcus Lattimore used to get 40 carries also. So it’s not unusual.”
By the time Davis had his third touchdown run, there was already a mass exodus of UCF students. Many showed up hours before the noon kickoff on ABC, anticipating what was dubbed arguably the biggest game in UCF history.
They left after USC made it 28-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Knights were playing their first game on network television, trying to beat only the second ranked opponent in program history. They also had a chance to improve to 4-0 for the first time in 25 years. A win would have moved UCF in the top 25 nationally.
Davis made sure that didn’t happen.
The sophomore helped ease pressure off backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, who replaced starter Connor Shaw after the first series. Shaw sprained his right, throwing shoulder while fumbling on USC’s first possession.
Thompson completed 15-of-32 passes for 262 yards and an interception. He added a 2-yard touchdown run that gave USC the lead for good at 14-10 in the third quarter. Junior receiver Bruce Ellington led USC with four catches for 88 yards, following his 100-yard game two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
“I just thank the Lord we have Mike Davis on our team,” Thompson said. “Mike is a great player. Turn around, hand it to him and just watch him go for 20, 30 or 40 yards. Do it again, and do it again — just answering the call every single time.”
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles had his worst game of the season, completing 22-of-33 passes for 258 yards and two interceptions. Bortles had two touchdown passes, the first a 73-yarder to UCF receiver Rannell Hall, who had seven catches for 135 yards. Hall caught a second touchdown with two minutes left that pulled UCF within a field goal.
UCF’s final touchdown came after a Davis fumble, breaking up the sophomore’s perfect game.
“I went the wrong way, and the guy put his helmet right on the ball,” Davis said. “I have to cover it up. The gloves were wet, but it’s all my fault. It’s all on me. No excuses.”
It was all on Davis down in Orlando. Except for one mistake, Davis carried his team to victory.
Junior receiver Damiere Byrd said the fumble doesn’t diminish anybody’s confidence in USC’s new star running back.
“Toward the end of the game when we’re up, we’re fine with him running the ball,” Byrd said. “He’s a player, and with the ball in his hands he does great things.”