By JEFFREY COLLINS Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s not his ultimate goal at South Carolina, but first-year coach Shane Beamer couldn’t hold back the tears after his Gamecocks became bowl eligibl e with a 21-17 win over Auburn on Saturday night.
Beamer said at practice this week, he got sad watching the first team he’s even been in charge of, afraid they might lose their last two and have just a week-and-a-half left together.
“Thank God that’s not the case,” Beamer said getting emotional again in his postgame news conference. “I’m so happy.”
The Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) fought back in this one. For the second week in a row, Auburn (6-5, 3-4) dominated early and jumped out to a big lead — this time 14-0 — but saw it evaporate as their defense suddenly lost its edge.
“We’ve got to show up in games and play four quarters,” said Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, whose team blew a 28-3 lead to Mississippi State last week.
ZaQuandre White, who finished the game with 99 yards running had just three yards on the ground when Auburn led by 14.
But the Gamecocks scored touchdowns on their next two drives with White running for 37 yards and popping uncovered out of the backfield for a 28-yard TD on a 4th-and-3 that turned the momentum of the game around.
It was nothing fancy, Beamer said.
“We talked about this being big boy SEC football,” Beamer said. “We literally lined up in the second half and ran the same two plays over and over and over and over and over again.”
Auburn appeared to have one last chance, but a review of several minutes determined a South Carolina punt barley brushed Jaylon Simpson’s leg with 2:11 to go and the Gamecocks ran the clock out.
Auburn lost its third game in a row even though Tank Bigsby ran for a season best 164 yards on 22 carries. LSU transfer T.J. Finley made his first start for his new team, going 17-for-32 passing for 188 yards after Bo Nix was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
South Carolina made a bowl last season with a 2-8 record, but it was canceled because of COVID-19.
“This is just the start,” Beamer said. “Our goal isn’t to just win six games and go to a bowl.”
Harsin said his team has failed to do the little things during its three-game losing streak and one missed opportunity was the turning point in the game.
Facing a 4th-and-1 on its own 35 in the second quarter, Auburn chose a deep pass that fell incomplete instead of a run. South Carolina tied the game at 14 with the short field on the next drive.
Harsin said the play worked in practice and he felt the Tigers needed something explosive on the road. But a reporter after the game pointed out Bigsby wasn’t even on the field and could have been used as a decoy to give the deep ball a better chance.
“Yea, that’s a good idea,” Harsin said. “But if we hit that for a touchdown, that’s a great play.”
Auburn: LSU transfer T.J. Finley made his first start for his new team, going 17-for-32 passing for 188 yards after Bo Nix was lost for the season with a broken ankle. He missed some open receivers, but made probably the best play of the game, converting a 4th-and-1 on a third quarter drive. But new kicker Ben Patton missed a 25-yard field goal. Patton took over for Anders Carlson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week on an onside kick.
South Carolina: Making it to a bowl is a good accomplishment for new Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer, who took over a team that had lost 13 of its past 16 games before Beamer took over. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers in back-to-back years after going 0-8 against Auburn since joining the SEC in 1992.
Auburn: The Tigers host Alabama next Saturday for the Iron Bowl. Auburn has won the last two in the rivalry at home — two of the five losses the Crimson Tide have suffered since 2017.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks host rival Clemson, which has a six game winning streak in the in-state series. The COVID-19 pandemic meant the teams didn’t play in 2020 for the first time in 112 years.