By Jeff Owens
Jake Bentley had trouble throwing the football Saturday, tossing three interceptions for the first time this season.
But boy, can he run it.
Bentley scored two of South Carolina's four rushing touchdowns and engineered an offense that rolled up a season-high 469 yards of total offense in a big 28-20 win over Florida.
The victory was the seventh of the season for the Gamecocks (7-3), who now have an excellent shot at an eight-win season in head coach Will Muschamp's second season. The Gamecocks host Wofford next week before the regular-season finale against Clemson.
A.J. Turner and Mon Denson combined to give the Gamecocks a potent rushing attack against a beleagured Florida team that fired its head coach three weeks ago and fell to 3-6 on the season. South Carolina rushed for 220 yards, with Turner running for 136 yards and Denson scoring the first two touchdowns of his career. Bentley had scoring runs of 4 and 7 yards.
Head coach Will Muschamp said the Gamecocks' balanced attack was the key to the game.
"I thought we moved the ball extremely well, we stayed balaneced exactly like we wanted to do and we ran the ball extremely well," he said. "I was pleased with how we were able to run the football. ... For us to be able to stay balanced and run the ball to help in the throwing game was huge."
After throwing his third interception early in the second half, Bentley led the Gamecocks on a six-play, 53-yard drive to put the Gamecocks ahead 28-13. He scrambled for 17 yards on a big third-down play and then scored the touchdown on a run-pass-option keeper around right end. Turner set up the score with a 25-yard run.
After Parker White missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with 4:56 remaining, Florida made it interesting when quarterback Feleipe Franks heaved a 63-yard Hail Mary pass that was caught by Moral Stephens at the 1-yard line. Mark Thompson scored the touchdown to pull the Gators within 8 at 28-20.
The Gamecocks secured the win when Javon Kinlaw tipped a pass by Franks and it was intercepted by Jamyest Williams with 1:06 remaining.
"Our guys continued to fight and play hard and make the plays when we needed to make the plays," Muschamp said.
Two years after taking over a 3-9 team, Muschamp's team has qualified for a bowl game for the second straight season and has an opportunity to finish the regular season with eight or nine wins after clinching second place in the SEC East.
"You talk about investing in what you need to do to be successful and buying into a new coaching staff and a new way of doing things," Muschamp said. "I'm really proud of this football team. There is a lot of progress being made."
The Gamecocks led 21-13 after a bizarre first half that featured four touchdowns and five turnovers, including two on one play and four in a wild six-play sequence.
The South Carolina offense started the game with one of its most impressive drives of the season, with Bentley capping a seven-play, 74-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run. With an effective mix of runs and passes, the Gamecocks had three big plays on the drive — a 27-yard run by Turner and pass plays of 23 yards to Hayden Hurst and 26 yards to Shi Smith.
After being dumped for a two-yard loss at the 2-yard line, Bentley scrambled around right end for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
After the defense stopped Florida on its second possession, Bentley started one of the most bizarre plays of the season. His pass from the 21-yard line was intercepted by Florida's CJ Henderson, who returned it to the goal-line, where he was stripped of the ball by Hurst. Turner scooped it up in the end zone and returned it to the 24 to help the Gamecocks maintain possession.
Four plays later, Florida muffed a punt and fumbled at the Gamecock 13, where Javon Charleston recovered it. On the next play, Bentley's pass was intercepted by Chauncey Gardner, who returned it to the Gamecock 47.
The defense stopped Florida again, setting up Carolina's second scoring drive. The running game took over from there. After runs of 17 and 9 yards by Turner, Mon Denson busted through a big hole up the middle and dashed 24 yards untouched for his first career touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Florida scored its first points after a Gator punt hit a Gamecock player and Florida recovered at the Carolina 44. Five plays later, Eddy Pineiro kicked a 29-yard field goal. The Gators added another field goal with 7:47 left in the half to cut the lead to 14-6.
The Gamecocks responded with another impressive drive capped by Denson's second touchdown of the game, a 12-yard burst up the middle for a 21-6 lead.
With Florida starting quarterback Malik Zaire out with a leg injury, Feleipe Franks led the Gators on a 75-yard scoring drive just before the half. Franks hit Josh Hammond with a 37-yard pass to start the drive and Lamichel Perine capped it with an 18-yard TD run to cut the lead to 21-13.