Shi Smith

Associated Press

No. 2 Alabama too much for South Carolina

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The good news for South Carolina is that it landed several punches against Alabama and the game was much more competitive than the final score indicated. The bad news for the SEC? A “close” win still amounted to a 31-point win Tua Tagovailoa threw for 444 yards and five touchdowns to led the No. 2 Crimson Tide to a 47-23 victory over a game South Carolina squad.

Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) accepted the ball to open the game and sliced 65 yards in five plays, scoring on a 24-yard Tua toss to running back Najee Harris, and at that point it seemed the route was on.

South Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SEC), however, did not agree. The Gamecocks pieced together a 14-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard Parker White field goal. Then South Carolina’s defense simply swallowed Alabama’s offense on its next possession, sacking Tagovailoa on first and third down. Skyler DeLong‘s punt went just 14 yards, handing South Carolina the ball and a golden opportunity to take the lead at Alabama’s 30.

The Tide defense forced its own three-and-out but, rather than try a 51-yard field goal, Will Muschamp called a beautiful fake field goal that went for a White touchdown, but the score was wiped off the board due to holding and the Gamecocks punted.

Alabama punished that mistake three plays later, when Tua hit Henry Ruggs III for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 14-3 lead at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter.

Once again knocked to the mat, South Carolina answered. This time, the Gamecocks went 75 yards in six snaps, scoring on a 31-yard toss from Ryan Hilinski to Shi Smith.

The first quarter ended with the quarterbacks going 17-of-24 for 273 yards and three touchdowns and the teams rushing for 28 combined yards.

South Carolina limited another Alabama drive to a field goal to open the second quarter, but then committed another crucial special teams mistake. This time, an illegal shift penalty negated a punt that was downed at the 1-yard line; on the second attempt, Joseph Charlton booted it 55 yards to the 17, which Jaylen Waddle returned 18 yards to the 35, turning a 5-yard mark off into a 34-yard penalty.

The Gamecocks forced Alabama into a 4th-and-3 at its own 42, when Tua tossed it to Najee Harris and the former 5-star did the rest, shucking one tackler and hurdling another for a highlight reel touchdown.

Alabama forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then South Carolina committed its third special teams disaster of the first half. Sensing the game slipping away from him, Muschamp called a fake punt from his own 30, but the Tide’s coverage unit was not fooled at all and Alabama took over at the South Carolina 32.

This time, however, Alabama paid back the Gamecocks with a special teams miscue of its own — a 37-yard field goal that Will Reichard pushed wide left.

Needing a drive to remain in the game, South Carolina got one, moving .. On first-and-goal from the 4, Rico Dowdle dove into the end zone but was ruled down at the 1. However, replays showed Dowdle perhaps got into the end zone before his thigh hit the ground, but the play was not reviewed. Hilinski’s second down pass was incomplete, and he fumbled the third down snap for a loss of two. Rather than kick a field goal, Muschamp elected to go for a fourth down on the final play of the half and Hilinski’s pass was incomplete and the Gamecocks came up empty.

South Carolina took the ball to open the second half and went 71 yards to get a 28-yard White field goal, meaning the Gamecocks compiled back-to-back drives totaling 24 plays, 148 yards… and three points.

Alabama finally separated for good when Tua found Devonta Smith on an RPO slant route for a 42-yard touchdown, putting the visitors up 31-13 with 9:52 to play in the third quarter. Tagovailoa ended his day at the 13:41 mark of the fourth quarter when he hit Smith for his 28th completion and his fifth touchdown of the day. Mac Jones capped the Tide scoring with a 1-yard keeper with 2:04 remaining.

Hilinski played courageously in his first start, completing 36-of-57 passes for 324 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, including an 11-yard toss to Kyle Markway with 11 seconds left in the game.

Trio of Tua TD tosses puts Alabama up on South Carolina at the half

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South Carolina has landed several punches on No. 2 Alabama through one half. Unfortunately for a game ‘Cocks crew, several of those punches have missed the Tide and landed squarely on their own face, and as a result Alabama leads 24-10 at the half in Columbia.

Alabama accepted the ball to open the game and sliced 65 yards in five plays, scoring on a 24-yard Tua Tagovailoa toss to running back Najee Harris, and at that point it seemed the route was on.

South Carolina, however, did not agree. The Gamecocks pieced together a 14-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard Parker White field goal. Then South Carolina’s defense simply swallowed Alabama’s offense on its next possession, sacking Tagovailoa on first and third down. Skyler DeLong‘s punt went just 14 yards, handing South Carolina the ball and a golden opportunity to take the lead at Alabama’s 30.

The Tide defense forced its own three-and-out but, rather than try a 51-yard field goal, Will Muschamp called a beautiful fake field goal that went for a White touchdown, but the score was wiped off the board due to holding and the Gamecocks punted.

Alabama punished that mistake three plays later, when Tua hit Henry Ruggs III for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 14-3 lead at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter.

Once again knocked to the mat, South Carolina answered. This time, the Gamecocks went 75 yards in six snaps, scoring on a 31-yard toss from Ryan Hilinski (making his first career start) to Shi Smith.

The first quarter ended with the quarterbacks going 17-of-24 for 273 yards and three touchdowns and the teams rushing for 28 combined yards.

South Carolina limited another Alabama drive to a field goal to open the second quarter, but then committed another crucial special teams mistake. This time, an illegal shift penalty negated a punt that was downed at the 1-yard line; on the second attempt, Joseph Charlton booted it 55 yards to the 17, which Jaylen Waddle returned 18 yards to the 35, turning a 5-yard mark off into a 34-yard penalty.

The Gamecocks forced Alabama into a 4th-and-3 at its own 42, when Tua tossed it to Najee Harris and the former 5-star did the rest, shucking one tackler and hurdling another for a highlight reel touchdown.

Alabama forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then South Carolina committed its third special teams disaster of the first half. Sensing the game slipping away from him, Muschamp called a fake punt from his own 30, but the Tide’s coverage unit was not fooled at all and Alabama took over at the South Carolina 32.

This time, however, Alabama paid back the Gamecocks with a special teams miscue of its own — a 37-yard field goal that Will Reichard pushed wide left.

Needing a drive to remain in the game, South Carolina got one, moving .. On first-and-goal from the 4, Rico Dowdle dove into the end zone but was ruled down at the 1. However, replays showed Dowdle perhaps got into the end zone before his thigh hit the ground, but the play was not reviewed. Hilinski’s second down pass was incomplete, and he fumbled the third down snap for a loss of two. Rather than kick a field goal, Muschamp elected to go for a fourth down on the final play of the half and Hilinski’s pass was incomplete and the Gamecocks came up empty.

Tagovailoa closed the half 16-of-22 for 286 yards and three touchdowns, while Hilinski was 18-of-28 for 175 yards and a score. South Carolina leads the rushing battle, 27-26.

South Carolina TE Kiel Pollard announces retirement following neck injury

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During a recent practice as the South Carolina Gamecocks prepare for the upcoming 2019 season, tight end Kiel Pollard injured his neck in a collision. That injury resulted in a broken neck that was originally supposed to keep Pollard out of action for four to six weeks, but a follow-up examination suggested it is no longer safe for him to continue playing football. As such, Pollard announced on his Instagram account on Friday that he is stepping away from playing football.

“To my surprise, after the MRI was completed and what felt like the longest 2 hours of my life, I was informed that I would be out for 4-6 weeks with a broken neck,” Pollard explained on his Instagram post. “I was perfectly fine with that. I felt no pain and my body was tired so I felt that rest was in order. This week that changed when I found out that last Tuesday would be my last time playing football. Not that I’m not able, but that it’s not safe for me to do so. I have loved football and always will! It was my desire to rock Willy B Stadium this year and then play in the NFL but I am aware that God has greater plans for my life!”

“Please don’t feel sorry for me because football has been good to me,” Pollard said. “Football has provided me with a great education in which I will be graduating in December this year! I am smart enough to know God doesn’t give anyone a gift that he doesn’t plan on using!”

Pollard was South Carolina’s fourth-leading receiver last season with 15 receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He was slotted to be a projected starter for the Gamecocks this season in an offense that returns Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith at wide receiver and starting quarterback Jake Bentley. Kyle Markway could be the top tight end option moving forward after appearing in 13 games last season, although as a deep bench option and with three catches for 53 yards in 2018. Freshman Travon Kenion could also get put on an accelerated path to find a role where he can contribute, although that could also still be a mild work in progress.

Pollard ends his football career with 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Belk Beatdown: Virginia shuts out South Carolina to secure first bowl win since 2005

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Motivation is a big talking point when it comes to mid- and lower-tier bowl games. Which team is happy to be there? Which team isn’t? Who wants it more?

Safe to say that Virginia was properly motivated to secure their first postseason victory since 2005 on Saturday afternoon, controlling the Belk Bowl from start to finish in every phase to beat South Carolina 28-0.

Leading the way for the ‘Hoos was their terrific QB-WR combo of Bryce Perkins and Olamide Zaccheaus. The former threw for 208 yards and a trio of touchdowns passes while scrambling for another 81 yards on the ground, moving the chains quite a bit on third down to help the team dominate time of possession and more on the stat sheet. Playing in his final game with the program, Zaccheaus was not surprisingly the top target for many of those Perkins passes as he recorded 12 catches for an even 100 yards and all three of the touchdowns through the air.

Jordan Ellis was also impressive running the ball, gashing an SEC defense to the tune of 106 yards and a score.

Playing without star playmaker Deebo Samuel, South Carolina simply couldn’t get any consistency going on offense and failed to keep pace with their opponent. Signal-caller Jake Bentley was rattled constantly and completed just 17 passes for 218 yards with a pair of interceptions. Shi Smith had a nice game with 76 yards receiving but the Gamecocks were forced to be one-dimensional most of the day as Rico Dowdle managed only 21 yards rushing and the team converted on third down just twice.

The end result drops Will Muschamp’s squad to 7-6 on the year and caps off a disappointing final stretch that saw South Carolina lose three of their final five games, including an 0-3 mark against Power Five opponents in that span. While you can certainly understand the offense taking a step back without Samuel, the effort had to be disappointing on defense for their head coach as the program enters a big offseason in Columbia.

The convincing victory by the Cavaliers, meanwhile, gives UVA an eighth win for the first time since 2011 and completes an impressive turnaround in Charlottesville ever since Bronco Mendenhall was brought over from BYU. The Hoos have plenty of momentum now having improved their win total in each campaign under the new staff and will be looking for a lot more after this kind of performance in the Belk Bowl.

Michigan spoils Big Ten’s perfect bowl season with Outback Bowl meltdown

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The Big Ten did not have a perfect 2017-18 bowl season. Though, to be fair, there are plenty in the Midwest who might argue that winning every bowl game except the one Michigan and Jim Harbaugh compete in is actually the perfect bowl season. However, South Carolina’s 26-19 Outback Bowl comeback over Michigan spoiled the league’s shot at winning every bowl game in a season in which it was shut out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 4-year history of the system.

And, like many defeats in the 3-year Harbaugh era, it was one in which the Wolverines grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.

Quinn Nordin‘s fourth field goal of the afternoon pushed Michigan’s lead to 19-3 with 5:42 to play in the third quarter; considering the state of South Carolina’s offense to that point, Nordin’s kick relegated the Outback Bowl to “I’ll check back in if something happens” for New Year’s Day viewers with the Citrus and Peach bowls on simultaneously.

Needless to say, something happened.

The Gamecocks moved 77 yards in a half-dozen plays, finally crossing pay dirt on a 17-yard Rico Dowdle option rush. A failed 2-point conversion kept Michigan’s lead at two scores at 19-9. However, Michigan immediately gave the ball back on a botched 3rd-and-1 exchange, and one play later Jake Bentley pulled South Carolina within 19-16 on a 21-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Edwards.

Michigan punted on its next possession, and South Carolina took the lead on a 53-yard strike from Bentley to Shi Smith. Trailing 23-19 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan penetrated South Carolina’s red zone with a chance to re-gain the lead but, flushed to his left, Brandon Peters elected to force a 3rd-and-goal pass from the 5-yard line rather than accepted defeat and bring on the field goal time. It was intercepted by JaMarcus King in the end zone.

Michigan’s defense immediately forced a three-and-out, but the ensuing punt was muffed. Taking over at the Michigan 14, South Carolina bit off 90 seconds of the remaining 5:15, taking a touchdown lead on a 22-yard Parker White field goal.

The maize and blue took over at their 25 with 3:42 and needing a touchdown to force overtime, but could not get as much as a completed pass. Peters fired four straight incomplete passes. White missed a 48-yard field goal that would have ended the game at the 1:43 mark of the fourth quarter, and Michigan marched near midfield with one final chance to tie the game. However, Peters’s 4th-and-1 pass was intercepted with 1:05 to play, thereby ending the game.

The loss concludes a bitterly disappointing season in which Michigan accomplished nothing of significance. The Wolverines went 8-5 but beat just one opponent with a winning record, 7-6 Purdue. Most importantly, Michigan did not find a quarterback answer for 2018. Peters’s performance — he was 20-of-44 for 186 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — proves that the answer lies in either redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey or Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, assuming the NCAA grants him eligibility.

South Carolina (9-4) has no such issues. The ‘Cocks won 15 games in Will Muschamp‘s first two seasons, something only two other South Carolina coaches have done. And in Bentley — 19-of-32 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — the Gamecocks have their quarterback of the present and the future.