COLUMBIA – It wasn’t as easy as most people expected, but South Carolina can still finish the regular season 10-2 for the second consecutive year, after the Gamecocks beat Wofford 24-7 on Saturday afternoon in their home finale.
The victory gave eighth-year South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier 64 in his career with the Gamecocks, tying him with Rex Enright for the school record. Enright needed 15 seasons (1938-42 and 1946-55) to go 64-69-7. Spurrier is now 64-37.
South Carolina finished the season 7-0 at home – its first undefeated home record since 1987, when it also went 7-0. The Gamecocks will go for 10-2 in next Saturday’s regular season finale at Clemson.
South Carolina went up 10-7 with 11:57 left in the game, on a 23-yard field goal by Adam Yates, which capped a 15-play, 68-yard drive that followed Wofford’s second lost fumble of the game. The fumble was a tough break for the Terriers. They had gone 68 yards in 15 plays, and used 8:40, before running back Octavious Harden had the ball popped out by free safety D.J. Swearinger at the South Carolina 25 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Wofford couldn’t answer South Carolina’s field goal, and went four plays and out. The Gamecocks stopped Wofford’s powerful fullback, Eric Breitenstein, for no gain on fourth down and one at Wofford’s 34.
The Gamecocks then needed just five plays to score a touchdown, on an eight-yard pass from Connor Shaw to receiver Ace Sanders, to take a 17-7 lead with 8:10 left. They sealed the win with a 31-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 7:33 left, by cornerback Akeem Auguste.
South Carolina was sloppy in the first half, after which the score was tied at seven. On their first possession, the Gamecocks drove 39 yards to Wofford’s 33, then Shaw threw an interception. On their third possession, they drove 79 yards to Wofford’s 6, but true freshman tailback Mike Davis lost a fumble there, at the end of a 16-yard run.
Davis and Kenny Miles were in their second game as the replacements for Marcus Lattimore, who is out for the season with a serious right knee injury. Miles led South Carolina in the first half with 12 carries for 74 yards and a two-yard touchdown. Miles finished with 27 carries for 127 yards, both career highs. Davis didn’t carry after his fumble until the game’s final snap.
Wofford took advantage of South Carolina’s mistakes by going 85 yards for a touchdown on its final possession of the first half, to tie the game. Breitenstein got the touchdown, a two-yarder. Breitenstein, who is the heart of Wofford’s option offense, had 15 carries for 68 yards in the first half. He finished with 28 carries for 125 yards.
It has also been 25 years since the Gamecocks’ rivalry meeting with Clemson was a matchup of top 15 teams, as No. 12 South Carolina beat No. 8 Clemson in 1987.
South Carolina, which entered Saturday No. 9 in the Bowl Championship Series and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, did its part to make next Saturday’s game at Clemson a top 15 versus top 15 showdown, the rivalry’s second ever. Clemson entered Saturday’s home game against North Carolina State ranked No. 11 by the AP.
If the Gamecocks beat Clemson and win their bowl game, they will tie last season’s program-best 11-2 record. South Carolina has already tied its best ever Southeastern Conference record, 6-2, which was its record last season. Before last season, South Carolina had never won 10 games in the regular season. Its best overall record was 10-2 in 1984.
The Gamecocks’ only losses this season were at LSU and Florida, who were ranked No. 8 and 7 by the AP on Saturday. Last season, one of South Carolina’s two losses was at Arkansas, which finished No. 5.
Wofford, which finished its regular season 8-3, went 6-2 in the Southern Conference, tying for the league’s championship. The Terriers almost certainly will receive a bid to the Championship Subdivision playoffs. If they make it, they will learn their opponent at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Saturday’s game against a less-talented opponent allowed South Carolina an opportunity to rest defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has dealt with a nagging right foot injury since the Sept. 29 win at Kentucky. He has been limited in practice ever since. South Carolina will need a full-speed Clowney against Clemson’s fast-paced offense. Clowney is a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football’s best defensive player.
Now the Gamecocks turn their focus to Clemson, where they will try to beat the Tigers for the fourth consecutive meeting. That would tie their longest winning streak the series, which dates to 1896. The only other time South Carolina won four straight over Clemson was from 1951-54. Clemson leads the series 65-40-4.
Notes: Spurrier is now 47-0 in his career against schools from outside the six major conferences, including 21-0 at South Carolina. … South Carolina has won 15 straight non-conference games since a loss to Clemson in 2008. … South Carolina has an 11-game home winning streak, the third-longest in school history. The Gamecocks won 13 straight at home from 1986-88 and 15 straight from 1978-80. … South Carolina is 25-3 at home since the beginning of the 2009 season.