South Carolina Football: Full game notes vs. Jacksonville State

South Carolina football mascot Cocky. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football mascot Cocky. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /
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Shane Beamer and his South Carolina football team needed to win four games in a row to end the season in order to keep hope alive for a bowl game. Beamer’s call for the Gamecocks to put together a “November to remember” is made a little easier by the fact that all four remaining games on the schedule are at home.

The first of those four games was a matchup with the “other” Gamecocks of Jacksonville State. The Rich Rodriguez-led squad and the home Gamecocks kicked off at 12:00 in front of an understandably less-than-capacity crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium.

For a shorter summary of the Jacksonville State game, click here.

South Carolina Football vs. Jacksonville State:
A Game Summary

After celebrity starter Deebo Samuel (who is on a Bye Week with the San Francisco 49ers) got things going in the pregame, South Carolina football elected to defer and give the ball to Jacksonville State first.

The move paid off as the Carolina defense allowed just one first down to the visiting Gamecocks with some sure tackling.

Spencer Rattler hit Xavier Legette for a 1st down on the second play of the game, and Mario Anderson took the next carry all the way to the 5-yard line after a 40-yard gallop that was sprung by a nice block from the smallest man on the field, Juju McDowell.

Two plays later, USC ran the ball into the end zone, but it wasn’t Anderson or even another running back who scored. Instead, defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway plunged in after spinning off of a would-be tackler to get the first points on the board. 7-0.

The strong defensive play continued on the next drive. After a short gain on a jet sweep, defensive end Jordan Strachan upended Ron Wiggins for a big loss. Forcing the run-heavy JSU offense to throw the ball was all that was needed as Zion Webb couldn’t convert, and Carolina forced a three-and-out.

The South Carolina Gamecocks earned a quick first down on a completion from Spencer Rattler to Ahmarean Brown, but that was all the success Dowell Loggains’ unit could find on the possession.

Another quick 3-and-out for the defense was followed up by a 3-and-out by the offense.

The next Jacksonville State possession looked dead in the water, but Wiggins made a nice play to pick up a 3rd-and-long, and then Webb hit Perry Carter for a 31-yard gain. Rich Rod dialed up a game-tying touchdown in which tight end Sean Brown collected the Webb pass and shook off poor tackling attempts from Debo Williams and Nick Emmanwori before diving across the goal line. Gamecocks-7, Gamecocks-7.

On the ensuing drive, DJay Braswell rushed for a short loss before Rattler found Legette for a 52-yard gain. An angle route to Juju McDowell picked up another first down, and Rattler hit Josh Simon in the flat for an 8-yard gain to get the ball to the 6-inch line. On the next play, Spencer Rattler snuck it in to give the home Gamecocks a 14-7 lead.

The up-tempo Jax State attack moved the ball down the field with ease when they got the ball back. Some really poor linebacker play from Stone Blanton was responsible for 42 yards on two plays, and JSU was in the red zone as the 1st quarter clock expired.  The Gamecock defensive line got pushed around inside the 20, and running back Anwar Lewis punched the ball to tie the score again 14-14.

When the home team’s offense again, a screen to Juju McDowell picked up a nice gain thanks to some high-effort blocking from his teammates, but the offense stalled, forcing an ill-advised fake punt in which Kai Kroeger threw into double-coverage. Xavier Legette knocked the pass away, but JSU took over near midfield after the turnover on downs.

The defense bailed out the poor coaching decision by forcing a 3-and-out, but the offense was only able to pick up one first down on the following drive before another Kai Kroeger punt followed Carolina’s fourth straight 3rd-down failure (0-4 on the game). Boo birds rang out in Williams-Brice Stadium as JSU took over with 8:00 remaining on the clock.

A holding call stopped what looked like it could be a promising State drive after a 9-yard gain on the first play. The penalty yardage was too much to overcome, though, and the Carolina offense got the ball back at their own 26.

Short gains by Ahmarean Brown and Xavier Legette netted a first down. Intermixed with some short runs that went nowhere, Legette caught another first down. The offensive line couldn’t hold up against the Jax State front-7, however, and Carolina stalled out at midfield. After having 45 yards rushing on the first drive, South Carolina football had 49 yards on the ground nearing the end of the half.

After the Kai Kroeger punt pinned JSU inside the 10, Clayton White’s defense continued to struggle. Two easy first downs into the drive, though, Zion Webb left the game with an injury and was replaced by Logan Smothers. Smothers gave the ball to the defense when he fumbled due to poor ball handling in the backfield. Tonka Hemingway jumped on the Smothers fumble, and USC had one more chance to score before the intermission.

On the first play, Spencer Rattler stepped up in the pocket and found Xavier Legette open. Legette bounced off of a tackler and streaked up the sideline before inexplicably stepping out of bounds at the five-yard line. Three plays later, #17 got his touchdown. Rattler found Legette in the back of the end zone for the score, giving South Carolina the 21-14 lead with 23 seconds left in the half.

JSU ran out the clock, and the home Gamecocks went into halftime with just a 7-point lead.

After the 2nd-half kickoff, Rattler took a deep shot. It did not go well. Intending to hit Nyck Harbor, Rattler slightly underthrew the speedy wideout, and Harbor didn’t fight back toward the ball. Jacksonville State ended up with the ball with an easy interception.

Two plays later, Jax State had picked up two first downs and almost 40 yards. Webb left the game again banged up, but Smothers led the offense to two more quick first downs. A few plays later, Smothers found Brown again for a 13-yard touchdown after beating linebacker Stone Blanton. All of a sudden, the game was tied up again at 21-21.

South Carolina answered with two quick first downs to Xavier Legette and O’Mega Blake, but the Gamecocks stopped the Gamecocks from there, forcing another punt.

A 3-and-out from Jacksonville State ended in ridiculous fashion. The JSU punter bobbled the snap, and instead of punting the ball, he took off running. In the end, he was way short of the first down, giving USC great field position near midfield.

The offense did nothing with that field position. After a failed 3rd-and-long, Carolina went for it on 4th-and-6, but Rattler underthrew Legette in the end zone, resulting in another turnover on downs. Boos rained down from the Gamecock Faithful.

Jacksonville State took over near the 50-yard line. After getting almost nothing on the ground, Jalon Kilgore and DQ Smith got beat over the top for a 54-yard bomb from Zion Webb to Perry Carter to give JSU the 28-21 lead. More boos.

Dowell Loggains’ unit continued to not do enough. They converted one first down but elected to punt on 4th-and-1 from midfield, giving the ball back to Jax State at the 20-yard line after a touchback on the punt. The boos grew louder.

A nice series from the defense earned the ball back with a 3-and-out.

The boos turned to cheers a play later as Spencer Rattler found Xavier Legette for a 65-yard touchdown. Legette’s catch brought him to 217 yards on the day, just 16 yards shy of the single-game record for South Carolina football (233 by Pharoh Cooper). With about 1:30 left on the clock, Legette and Gamecocks were tied with the Jacksonville State Gamecocks 28-28.

The Carolina D was set for another 3-and-out, but cornerback O’Donnell Fortune got called for a silly pass interference penalty to extend the drive. Thankfully for South Carolina football fans, Zion Webb missed an open receiver on the next 3rd down, and Rich Rodriguez’s team had to punt again.

On the next drive, because of pressure, Rattler missed Legette for what would have been another easy, long touchdown score, but a pass interference flag netted Carolina some yardage anyway. The 3rd quarter came to an end a play later, and the Cock-a-Doodle Duel was officially a barn burner with the score knotted at 28-28.

Carolina continued the drive with two more first downs, but an awful sack came as a result of a missed assignment up front, and Carolina couldn’t advance much past midfield. Kai Kroeger punted the ball down to the 12 where it was fair caught.

Jacksonville State picked up a first down plus 15 more after a Jaron Willis facemask. Another penalty (12 men on the field) gave JSU 1st and 5, but Ron Wiggins fumbled the ball away on the next play. Debo Williams ended up with the JT Geer forced fumble near the 45-yard line.

Spencer Rattler found Mario Anderson for an 18-yard gain on the first play of the next series, and Anderson went down with an injury after getting the ball again on the next snap. A Josh Simon first down preceded two Juju McDowell carries that put the Gamecocks in a 3rd-and-inches situation inside the red zone.

A quarterback sneak earned the 1st down, and then Anderson returned to the game to get Carolina inside the 5. A sack and an incompletion forced USC to trot out Mitch Jeter for the short kick. From 26 yards out, the kick was good, and South Carolina football took the lead 31-28.

Webb and the JSU offense picked up two first downs to move the ball into Carolina territory. Then, despite defensive holding by Marcellas Dial, PJ Wells reeled in a one-handed grab on the sideline. Just as Jacksonville State was threatening, linebacker Stone Blanton (who had struggled much of the game), made a very nice play to redeem himself. Blanton stepped in front of a Zion Webb pass and returned the interception 88 yards for a score.

Now leading 38-28, the South Carolina defense took the field with two minutes remaining. Smothers came back in for Webb on the next series and was picked off on his first pass by OD Fortune, sealing the game.

It was stressful. It was ugly. It was a win.

South Carolina football is now 3-6, and the team’s bowl chances are still hanging on by a thread.

The game was highlighted by a spectacular performance from Xavier Legette. Legette put up the 2nd-most receiving yards in a single game in the history of the Gamecock football program with 217 yards.

Legette’s quarterback Spencer Rattler was pretty good, as well, throwing for 399 yards and three total touchdowns. He passed Dylan Thompson in career passing yards at South Carolina and is now 8th on the all-time list, despite playing just two years in Columbia.

Mario Anderson was good again with over 100 yards from scrimmage. Josh Simon showed some flashes as well.

On defense, the biggest positives came from the tackling performances by Debo Williams and Nick Emmanwori who combined for 23 stops. Stone Blanton, OD Fortune, and JT Geer should be commended for forcing turnovers (and Tonka Hemingway and Debo Williams recovered fumbles). Before those, the Gamecocks hadn’t forced a turnover since September.

There were plenty of struggles from both sides of the football, as well.

The Carolina offensive line struggled against a team that just moved up from FCS. Most Gamecocks not named Xavier Legette and Josh Simon struggled to get open.

The defense was pretty bad most of the day, but they were better than it seemed. Several three-and-outs were squandered by an offense that immediately put them back out on the field.