COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mike Davis ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns as No. 21 South Carolina bounced back from an embarrassing opening-week loss to Texas A&M to hold off East Carolina 33-23 on Saturday night.
The Gamecocks (1-1) trailed 13-7 early on with the Pirates (1-1) threatening to put another Aggie-style beating on them. But behind Davis’ grinding runs and the defense’s improving play, South Carolina found its footing in its first win of the season.
The victory was Steve Spurrier’s 200th as a Southeastern Conference coach at Florida and with the Gamecocks. Only Paul “Bear” Bryant with 292 and Vince Dooley with 201 have more than the head ball coach. Spurrier can tie Dooley next week against his old team when the Gamecocks host No. 6 Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks got four field goals from Elliott Fry and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to K.J. Brent.
East Carolina closed to 30-23 on Cam Worthy’s 17-yard TD catch with 12:03 left. But the Gamecocks went on a nearly 11-minute drive, finishing with Fry’s 20-yard field goal with 1:30 left to put the game away.
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden threw for 321, the second time in as many weeks the Gamecocks have given up big passing numbers after the Aggies’ Kenny Hill threw for 511.
Pirates receiver Justin Hardy had 11 catches for 133 yards.
South Carolina was desperate to show some polish on offense and toughness on defense, unlike in its 52-28 embarrassment against Texas A&M.
But it was the Pirates of the American Athletic Conference who got the jump on things. Carden looked a lot like Texas A&M record-setter Hill, completing long passes and quickly moving East Carolina down field.
Carden was 6 of 8 for 69 yards on the drive that ended with Harvey’s first field goal from 25 yards out.
Two plays later, East Carolina was moving again after Josh Hawkins interception. And Carden pushed the Pirates into the red zone this time, too, settling for Harvey’s 35-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead in front of a disgruntled, 80,889 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
But Davis, who last year gained 1,183 yards, turned things the Gamecocks’ way.
The junior had missed the second half against Texas A&M with bruised ribs — and a sizeable Aggies lead — and didn’t start this one. He got going late in the opening quarter with his twisting, 36-yard touchdown run helped by some solid downfield blocks by tight end Rory Anderson and receiver Shaq Roland.
Davis put the Gamecocks ahead to stay in the second quarter. He took a sideline swing pass from Dylan Thompson 19 yards to the East Carolina 3, then finished off the drive on the next play as he easily burst through the scrum for his second TD and a 17-13 lead.
South Carolina’s defense, which allowed a school worst 680 yards in the Texas A&M loss, stiffened up after a rough start against the Pirates. The Gamecocks gave up 195 yards in the opening period and just 82 in the second quarter.
Defensive lineman Gerald Dixon Jr. ended another drive by blocking Harvey’s 42-yard field goal try late in the second quarter. It was the Gamecocks first blocked field goal since 2011 when current Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore did it against Tennessee.
The win was also Spurrier’s 50th home victory in 10 seasons at South Carolina.