USC Downs Vanderbilt 34-27, Becomes Bowl Eligible

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On the expected legs of A.J. Turner and the surprising legs of quarterback Jake Bentley, South Carolina is finally back in an Southeastern Conference East Division race in November.

Bentley, who came into the game with 14 yards rushing all season, ran six times for 47 yards and the first two TDs on the ground in his college career to lead South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) to a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Turner ran 15 times for a career best 121 yards.

The Gamecocks still need help for only a second division title since joining the SEC in 1992. Even if they beat No. 3 Georgia on the road next weekend, they will still be a game behind the Bulldogs but with the tiebreaker.

A new weapon emerged Saturday. When Bentley takes off, it’s a deep-breath moment for the Gamecocks. Offensive lineman Zach Bailey used a curse word to say what it scares out of him. Bentley said when he has just one defender in front of him, he tries to make what he called “the slowest juke move ever seen.”

But each of the sophomore’s runs was huge. Two went for touchdowns, one turned a second-and-15 into a third-and-2 and another went for 8 yards on a second-and-9.

Bentley also completed 19 of his 29 passes for 174 yards.

Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-5) had two players ejected for targeting — defensive back Zaire Jones and linebacker Charles Wright, the team’s sack leader, on a hit on Bentley just after he released the ball.

Bentley said he is used to taking shots. “Anytime a quarterback runs it’s like a little minnow with a pool of sharks,” he said.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said he wasn’t going to argue the specifics of either targeting call, but he isn’t sure the rule is being interpreted correctly. He felt his players made hard tackles that did not target the head or a helpless player.

“I saw a young man tackle a quarterback,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We’ve got to get that right.”

The Commodores finished with 10 penalties for 100 yards. The final one might have been the most costly. A holding penalty by tight end Sam Dobbs stalled a potential game-tying drive and Kyle Shurmur overthrew Caleb Scott on fourth-and-2 with just over a minute to go at the South Carolina 40.

Shurmur threw for a season-best 333 yards and four touchdowns.

Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp plans nothing special next week to emphasize the stakes at third-ranked Georgia.

“Our guys know it’s an important game. They understand what is standing in front of them and me telling them is not going to make any difference,” Muschamp said.