The University of South Carolina Football team took the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday for the annual Garnet & Black Spring Game. The Black team earned the victory, 35-14, in front of 32,916 fans excited to see the first competition of the Will Muschamp era.
Quarterback play was exceptionally strong on Saturday as the Gamecocks accounted for 437 total passing yards. Freshman Brandon McIlwain led the way, going 19-for-26 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Connor Mitch finished 9-for-16 for 141 yards and one touchdown, while Michael Scarnecchia was 8-for-13 for 99 yards and a score. Carolina did not commit a turnover in the game.
Freshman Devin Dingle was the top receiving target on Saturday, catching two passes for 77 yards, while Bryan Edwards caught a pair of touchdowns. Rod Talley ran for a team-high 34 yards as the Gamecocks spread the ball around. In total, 17 different players caught a pass, and 13 different Gamecocks carried the ball at least once.
Defensively, linebacker Sherrod Pittman was credited with a team-high seven tackles, and safety Toure Boyd made six. Boosie Whitlow got into the backfield for two sacks, while Javion Duncan, T.J. Holloman and Ulric Jones each sacked the quarterback once.
With the Garnet & Black Game marking the end of the 2016 spring practice season, Coach Muschamp and his staff took time to honor the team’s top spring performers. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel was named the Steve Spurrier Offensive Player of the Spring, and Marquavius Lewis was the Rex Enright Defensive Player of the Spring. The Jim Carlen Special Teams Player of the Spring was awarded to Bryson Allen-Williams, and Holloman was named the Dr. Harris Pastides Outstanding Student-Athlete Representative. Last but not least, the Harold White GPA Award went to quarterback Perry Orth (offense), linebacker Jordan Diggs (defense) and kicker Elliott Fry (special teams).
After the teams traded punts on the first two drives, McIlwain opened the Black team’s scoring account. The freshman scrambled 18 yards down the left sideline into the end zone, and the Fry extra point made the score 7-0. The touchdown run capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive and was the lone scoring play of the first quarter.
The Black team added to their lead early in the second quarter. With Mitch in as quarterback, the Garnet went on an eight-play, 49-yard drive that ended with Fry connecting on a 34-yard field goal. The score made it 10-0, Black team.
McIlwain struck again with the first touchdown pass of the game on the next drive. He capped a long scoring drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Edwards, who made an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone. Gamecock alum and current San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram was brought in to catch the two-point conversion, and the Black squad took an 18-0 lead.
Garnet came back with their first touchdown of the game on the ensuing possession. Darius Paulk rumbled into the end zone from one yard out, and Fry’s extra point made the score 18-7.
The Gamecocks found the scoreboard for the third straight drive as the Black team scored a touchdown on their next possession. The McIlwain-to-Edwards connection was on the money again, this time for a 12-yard passing score. Fry drilled the extra point, and the teams went into halftime with Black leading, 25-7.
McIlwain was 13-for-17 in the first half for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Javon Charleston was the team’s top receiver with four catches for 54 yards in the opening period, and Samuel led all players with 33 rushing yards in addition to four receptions for 31 yards. Safety Toure Boyd
The Black team added to their lead with the lone scoring drive of the third quarter. Scarnecchia came in to play quarterback, and the sophomore linked up with Christian Owens on a nine-yard touchdown pass. Michael Almond booted the extra point home to make the score 32-7.
Fry accounted for the special teams highlight of the day on the Black team’s next possession. The senior connected on a 48-yard field goal, pushing the score to 35-7.
The Garnet team found the scoreboard one more time before the end of the game. Mitch tossed a five-yard touchdown to Jamari Smith, and Almond was accurate on the extra point to make the score 35-14, Black team. The touchdown was the last scoring play of the game.
Will Muschamp was pleased with the day. “I thought it was a great day, starting with the alumni game,” said Muschamp. “Those guys had a fantastic time, and it was great for our crowd. We had a wonderful crowd. I was excited about that, and we came out of this thing pretty much injury free. I was really pleased with our effort, and it’s a critical time now until August 1st. By NCAA rules, we can’t be on the field with them at all. Our guys need to take ownership, and they can make a tremendous amount of improvement offensively and defensively during this time. I think we have the leadership and the maturity to handle that. A lot of completion certainly helps our situation.”
“We tried to stay away from some of the gap schemes in the run game because that’s when your get guys tangled up. We threw our normal route concepts, and we didn’t put anything different on tape that we didn’t do at Florida or Auburn on defense or what we didn’t do at Florida with (Kurt) Roper on offense. Those are things that we do. For the most part, there wasn’t a whole lot of scaling back. We did good on good, and that’s the only way to get better. You get a false opinion of yourselves when you go ones vs. twos, threes and fours. I don’t understand the rational behind that.”
The Gamecocks will open the 2016 regular season on Thursday, Sept. 1 against SEC rival Vanderbilt. Kickoff time and television information will be released at a later date.