Samuel

South Carolina's Deebo Samuel recovers a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown after Akron's punter mishandled the snap. Samuel scored three touchdowns on Saturday. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — With all of South Carolina’s injuries on defense, the Gamecocks could have put Deebo Samuel in the secondary Saturday.

Pretty much the only way he hasn’t scored during his magnificent career is by a pick-six, so why not let him try?

The Gamecocks beat Akron, 28-3, Saturday to finish the regular season 7-5. For Samuel, it was a perfect way to say farewell to Williams-Brice Stadium. The senior scored on an end-around run for a touchdown, a slant pass from Jake Bentley, and on a recovered fumble in the end zone.

“Coach puts me in position to make plays,” he said. “I just go out there and do what they ask me to do.”

Samuel’s been a key special teams performer but usually as a kick returner. This time a snap to Akron punter Nick Gasser went through his hands and the ball rolled into the end zone. Samuel fought for it on the bottom of a scrum and came up with it for the score, giving him the 29th touchdown of his career. He’s got 15 receiving, seven rushing, four on kickoff returns and has thrown two TD passes. Now he has one on a fumble recovery.

“I seen the ball come out,” Samuel said. “Our objective is to go get the ball when we see the ball on the ground.”

What went right

 The Gamecocks were as up-tempo offensively in the first half as they have been throughout the last four games and their defense held Akron to a field goal. USC ended with solid numbers — Bentley 14-of-27 for 199 yards and three touchdowns, Bryan Edwards broke 100 yards receiving, Mon Denson rushed for 110 — but the points didn’t reflect it.

• USC won the game and improved to 7-5, which looks much better than 6-6. While it probably wouldn’t have moved the Gamecocks up or down in bowl projections, having seven means most likely a nearby bowl game that won’t interfere with Christmas.

• Punter Joseph Charlton had a busy day, kicking six times. While his average wasn’t great (38 yards), he should still earn all-SEC honors when they’re released next week.

What went wrong

• The Gamecocks had four turnovers, three in the third quarter. They only had five over their previous six games.

It would be easy to blame it on a rain that began 10 minutes before kickoff and never ceased, but the facts are that Rico Dowdle and Kiel Pollard were each stripped of the ball because they didn’t have it secured. Bentley also threw two interceptions, both coming because he overlooked covering safeties in the end zone.

Those kept Bentley on the field late in a 25-point game when USC had already had a catastrophic injury. Muschamp said Akron was shutting down the run and the Gamecocks were trying to put the game away, but they never got that second-half score.

"Akron's a team that beat Northwestern. I wish we would have played better,” Bentley said. “If I don't turn the ball over in the red zone ... probably would have been different."

• Javon Kinlaw was escorted off the field by Muschamp in the second half after talking and gesturing to an official. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I felt like we needed to make sure the situation didn’t escalate,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very competitive young man.”

Turning point

Samuel caught a touchdown pass from Bentley with less than two minutes remaining in the first half to make it 28-3. Nobody scored again.

Looking ahead

South Carolina will discover its bowl destination Sunday afternoon. All signs point to the Gamecocks going to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.