COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Xavier Leggette caught nine passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns to lead South Carolina to a 38-28 win Saturday over Jacksonville State.
Spencer Rattler was 27-of-38 passing for 399 yards but outside of the two best players on the field, the game didn't increase hopes for fans of South Carolina (3-6, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) that the team can win three more in a row and make a bowl.
But South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said no need to look ahead right now. Instead, he let his team celebrate breaking a draining four-game losing streak.
“There are going to be people who just live a miserable existence that are going to be why are you celebrating a 10-point win over Jacksonville State?” Beamer said. “That's why they aren't on a team.”
Jacksonville State (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA) committed four turnovers and the biggest mistake — a pass that South Carolina's Stone Blanton stepped in front of and ran back 88 yards for a touchdown with 2:02 left — finally did in their hopes for a first win over a SEC school since beating Ole Miss in 2010 and matching the 2021 Power Five upset of Florida State.
Jacksonville State coach Rich Rodriguez was mad at himself. His team was running the ball well and driving and planned to score with little time left.
“I made a bad play call with that interception. We had a chance to win it right there," Rodriguez said.
Each of the other turnovers were painful too.
A Ron Wiggins fumble early in the fourth quarter led to South Carolina breaking a 28-all tie and Logan Smothers lost a fumble on a snap with 53 seconds left in the second quarter. Two completions to Leggette later, South Carolina took a 21-14 lead into the locker room.
Jacksonville State's last hope ended with a O'Donnell Fortune interception with 1:42 left in the game.
“We know why we’re here. It’s a payday. We’re getting a nice check. It’s about a quarter of our budget," said Rodriguez, whose team was paid $1.3 million to come to South Carolina. "But we want to win. The guys played hard enough to do it.”
South Carolina came into the game averaging 86.1 yards a game rushing, fifth-worse in the country. They gained 89 yards on 38 carries Saturday, 40 of that on Mario Anderson's first carry of the game.
Rattler had one rushing TD and the other came when 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway rumbled over right end with his first-ever carry for a 2-yard score.
The offense load fell mostly to Rattler and Leggette, who came into Saturday averaging 94.5 yards a game, the 11th-best total in the country.
“When it comes down to it, you have to have players make plays. and Xavier is a threat no doubt,” Beamer said.
Jacksonville State is in its final season transitioning from FCS to FBS and can play in a bowl game if not enough teams get the six wins needed to fill 82 spots. They failed to eliminate South Carolina from contention Saturday.
Jacksonville State: It had plenty of chances to pick up a program defining win, but the mistakes were killers. Jacksonville State ran for 225 yards, the 27th straight game the team has gained over 100 yards.
South Carolina: A win is a win, especially when about to teeter out of bowl eligibility, but the lack of a running game, and the insistence to keep trying even when it fails, raises questions. South Carolina threw the ball 39 times for 399 yards and ran it 38 times for 89 yards on Saturday.
South Carolina honored football teams who played between 2010 and 2013 at halftime, including the 2010 team which has the team's only SEC East title.
They gave former coach Steve Spurrier the microphone and he didn't disappoint, heaping praise on the players who made him the winningest coach in school history (86 wins). He had quips too, recalling the 33-28 win in the 2013 Outback Bowl over Michigan.
“We made sure they weren’t getting our signals," Spurrier said.
Jacksonville State: The Conference USA Gamecocks have an off week before a home game with Louisiana Tech on Nov. 18.
South Carolina: The SEC Gamecocks host Vanderbilt next Saturday.
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