It wasn’t difficult to imagine South Carolina would be 4-2 at the midpoint of this season. Predicting how it would get here would have been the tough part.
The Gamecocks blasted Arkansas 48-22 in front of 79,416 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium, putting a feel-good bookmark in the middle of their season and potentially setting the stage for a second half that has some winnable games.
“I think this is going to propel us for the rest of the season,” said quarterback Jake Bentley, who had his second three-touchdown game of the season. “We knew going into the game it was a big game for us.”
That’s because the past three had been so bad. After a 2-0 start, South Carolina stumbled against Kentucky, needed to get lucky against Louisiana Tech and then blew a late lead against Texas A&M. It was that last game that coach Will Muschamp worried about.
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“It was really a gut-wrenching loss last week, stomped our guts,” Muschamp said. “When you go through that and see the hurt in the locker room in the end, you kind of worry about the next week.”
For 29:56 seconds, it seemed Muschamp was right to be worried. The Gamecocks (4-2 overall, 2-2 SEC) were tied with the Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2 SEC) at 10-10 until wide receiver Bryan Edwards made a circus catch in the back of the end zone with four seconds left in the second quarter to give South Carolina a 17-10 lead at halftime.
South Carolina’s defense took over in the second half, scoring three times on Arkansas turnovers in the most dominant performance of the Muschamp era in Columbia.
“I don’t know that in our first six games I have ever questioned our effort,” Muschamp said. “I don’t question our ‘want to.’ Has it always been exactly what you wanted? No, but our guys give effort. Our guys have had a competitive edge about themselves.”
For almost a month, South Carolina had been swimming upstream despite its best efforts. Saturday night, it felt the wind at its back for the first time in a long time.
“It definitely gives us momentum going into next week,” center Alan Knott said. “I think it was definitely a big step for us.”
Beating Arkansas was not the Gamecocks’ greatest achievement of the evening. Plenty of teams have done that this season, and from the looks of things, plenty more will to close out the season. For South Carolina, simply getting out of its own way was a positive step forward that should give the team confidence as it heads to the second half of the season.
“It most definitely does, but right now, we are going to enjoy this win, and tomorrow, we are going to come in and prepare for Tennessee,” Rico Dowdle said. “We’re taking it one game at a time.”
The Gamecocks outgained Arkansas 358-330 in total offense but the disparity was much greater than that. South Carolina punted just twice to the Razorbacks’ five times and led by 31 before emptying its bench.
“That’s big for our confidence, especially on offense when you can run the ball like that,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “That’s what we’ve been looking for all year, and we were finally able to do that tonight.”
Even with giving up two garbage time touchdowns to the Razorbacks, it was South Carolina’s largest margin of victory under Muschamp and the first time it has scored 48 points since 2014 against Vanderbilt.
“It’s good,” linebacker Skai Moore said. “After a big win, it’s always a great feeling. Whenever our work shows on Saturday, it feels great. It’s good, and we want to continue it.”