COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s best defensive player opened the game standing on the sideline with his helmet in his hands, and with everyone wondering why Skai Moore wasn’t playing against The Citadel.
The junior linebacker, who leads USC in tackles and interceptions, was held out of the early stages of USC’s 23-22 loss because he had missed practice time earlier in the week to return home to South Florida and attend a funeral. Interim head coach Shawn Elliott said the move was made not out of punishment, but because other players were better prepared against The Citadel’s triple-option offense.
“Certainly, he missed practice time,” Elliott said, “and you’ve got to have preparation against a team like this.”
Bryson Allen-Williams started in place of Moore, who had started every other game this season. “I thought the guys who went in and played (did) fine,” said co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke. “(Moore) had to go home for that family situation, and he didn’t have as many reps against a specific type of offense. And when he was in there, he did fine.”
The Citadel rushed for 350 yards in the victory, and linebacker T.J. Holloman didn’t think Moore starting the game would have made much difference. “Bryson did a great job,” he said. “He made a lot of plays. He made a bunch of tackles.”
Moore entered the game with 95 tackles, bidding to become the first USC player to record 100 or more in a single season since Jasper Brinkley in 2006. He had three tackles against the Bulldogs, and will try to hit the century mark next Saturday against Clemson.
Saturday not only ensured The Citadel of its highest victory total since 1992, it also gave the Bulldogs their first upset over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since a 15-14 win over Army that same season. The program now has seven wins over FBS foes overall.
Before Saturday, the others were a 42-35 victory over Navy in 1988, a 14-0 victory over Navy in 1989, the 38-35 victory over South Carolina in 1990, a 20-14 victory over Army in 1991, and a 10-3 victory over Arkansas in 1992.
The eight wins are The Citadel’s most in a single season since the Bulldogs went 11-2 in 1992.
USC receiver Deebo Samuel, hampered for much of this season by a strained hamstring, played Saturday for the first time since the Georgia game on Sept. 19. Samuel finished with four receptions for 27 yards.
The Gamecocks also started two true freshmen on the offensive line, former Summerville High School star Zack Bailey at guard and Blake Camper at tackle, due to injuries to regular starters Mike Matulis and Mason Zandi, respectively. Receiver Terry Googer suffered a concussion in the game, according to USC.
The Gamecocks came out throwing Saturday, and quarterback Perry Orth set career highs with 28 completions and 367 yards. Tight end Jerell Adams set career highs with six receptions and 105 yards. Pharoh Cooper had a career-high 11 catches for 191 yards.
It was the first time USC had two receivers go over 100 receiving yards in the same game since Moncks Corner native Bruce Ellington had 140 and Shaq Roland 112 in the 2014 Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin.
“We knew coming into the game we were going to try and chunk it around a little more than we normally had,” Orth said. Elliott added The Citadel’s defensive plan was to try and make USC throw the ball to its receivers. Despite the big numbers, USC had catchable deep balls to Adams and Hayden Hurst fall to the turf.
“They were going to see if we had players out there who could make plays,” he said. “At times, we did.”
With his three field goals Saturday, junior placekicker Elliott Fry passed Ryan Succop for second on USC’s all-time scoring list. Fry now has 270 points, 60 behind leader Collin Mackie. Fry also moved into second place all-time in field goals made with 52, again behind Mackie, who has 72.
The 174 rushing yards recorded by Citadel fullback Tyler Renew on Saturday were the most against the Gamecocks in a single game this season. The previous high had been 161 by LSU’s Derrius Guice.
Clemson’s 33-13 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday ensures that the Tigers will come to Williams-Brice Stadium next weekend as the nation’s top-ranked team. The last No. 1 team to visit South Carolina was Alabama in the 2010 season. The Gamecocks won that game 35-21.