Defense, Dowdle lead South Carolina to 24-7 win vs. Kentucky
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster like sharing the football, especially when it leads to South Carolina victories like this.
Dowdle and Feaster, the Gamecocks’ two senior tailbacks, both ran for more than 100 yards and accounted for three touchdowns as South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) snapped a five-game series losing streak to Kentucky with a 24-7 victory Saturday night.
Dowdle had 102 yards and a 30-yard TD while Feaster, the Clemson graduate transfer, had 107 yards and scoring runs of 2 and 19 yards in a dominant win over the Wildcats (2-3, 0-3).
Many wondered how Dowdle and Feaster, both dynamic runners, would manage in the same backfield. They gave an emphatic answer against Kentucky.
“He pushes me to be better. I push him to be better,” Dowdle said. “I think it’s working pretty well.”
The Gamecocks also ended a run of six consecutive losses to Power Five opponents. And they did it just the way coach Will Muschamp wanted with an effective running attack.
Dowdle surpassed the century mark for the second time in three games. But Dowdle appeared to injure his left leg less than two minutes into the fourth quarter and needed support to make the sidelines as the crowd chanted “Rico, Rico.”
Dowdle said his ankle got rolled, but he expected to be OK when South Carolina plays at No. 3 Georgia in two weeks.
Feaster gave South Carolina a second 100-yard rusher with 107 yards (67 in the final period) and touchdown runs of 2 and 19 yards. It’s the first time the Gamecocks had a pair of 100-yard rushers in SEC play since 2001 when Andrew Pinnock and Derek Watson did it in a win over Vanderbilt with Lou Holtz as coach.
Feaster won a pair of national titles with Clemson, but wanted a new setting where he could showcase the skills that made him a five-star prospect coming out of high school. It had been slow going at times for South Carolina’s run game this season until the breakthrough against Kentucky.
The win “proves a lot,” Feaster said. “Just that hard work and dedication will take you far. Even if the results weren’t immediate, just keep pushing, keep fighting.”
The Gamecocks certainly did, pressuring Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith throughout and giving up just 111 yards total the first three quarters. The Wildcats broke up a shutout on Chris Rodriguez’s 2-yard scoring run with 2:32 left in the game.
“This was a commanding win and that’s what we needed going into an off week,” Muschamp said.
Kentucky last started SEC play with three losses in 2013.
The Wildcats had averaged better than 200 yards rushing against South Carolina during the win streak. They managed just 115 yards on the ground in this one.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Smith was dealing with injuries and struggled to move the ball.
“We need to hit the reset button and get some guys healthy,” he said. “And get some of these mistakes that we’re making corrected.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats defense struggled against a South Carolina offense that came in averaging only 93 yards rushing against its three previous Power Five opponents this season. Kentucky must correct that during the open week before playing three of their next four games at home.
South Carolina: The sky had all but fallen on the Gamecocks through the four games of the season and with expected starting quarterback Jake Bentley lost for the season with a foot injury. But South Carolina leaned heavily on its run game and allowed freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski the time to make plays when he had to. The Gamecocks now have hope heading into the bye week, something few thought this time a week ago.
South Carolina made it through with further injuries to its quarterback corps. The season’s starter, Jake Bentley, is out for the year with a fractured foot while backup Dakereon Joyner had a strained hamstring. Bentley has a scooter device to keep his foot elevated while Joyner was on crutches. Freshman Ryan Hilinski, the SEC rookie of the week two weeks ago, had a steady performance in victory. He finished with 140 yards on 15-of-27 passing.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp had glasses on during the game, the 48-year-old acknowledging like many people the toll times takes on your eyes. “Yeah, I’m getting old,” he said. “I can’t read anymore, especially at night.”
Center Donell Stanley liked the look. “I think it makes him look more experienced, I think,” he said.
Kentucky is off next week, then returns home to face Arkansas on Oct. 12.
South Carolina also has a bye next week before heading to No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 12.
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