COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster each rushed for more than 100 yards and South Carolina snapped a five-game series losing streak to Kentucky with a 24-7 victory Saturday night.
The Gamecocks (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) also ended a run of six consecutive losses to Power Five opponents against the Wildcats (2-3, 0-3). All week, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp emphasized an improved running attack: Dowdle and Clemson grad transfer Feaster made sure it happened.
Dowdle ran for 102 yards and a 30-yard touchdown, his second time surpassing the century mark 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.”
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.
The Gamecocks defense did the rest, 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.
It was a week of angst for South Carolina after a disheartening 34-14 loss at Missouri where Ryan Hilinski, the SEC rookie of the week for throwing 324 yards against No. 2 Alabama on Sept. 14, was way off target and out of synch in a game where he threw a 100-yard pick six interception.
This time, the Gamecocks took some pressure of their freshman passer, calling on the run game and defense to lead the way. Hilinski was a steady 15-of-27 passing for 140 yards for South Carolina’s first win over Kentucky since 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.
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.