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South Carolina gets bowl eligible with 37-12 win

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier asked everyone to give his defense credit at least four different times after the Gamecocks 37-12 win over South Alabama on Saturday.

The unit, next-to-last in the Southeastern Conference giving up 442 yards a game coming in, held a second straight opponent under 300 yards and forced five turnovers to help South Carolina (6-5) became bowl eligible.

''We had a lot of screw ups offensively,'' said Spurrier, whose Gamecocks also turned the ball over five times. ''But our defense bailed them out.''

South Alabama (6-5) ran 21 more plays and gained 207 yards in the first half. The Jaguars converted five of eight third downs in the first 30 minutes, but each stop was in the red zone, forcing South Alabama to kick three field goals.

In the second half, the Jaguars gained just 82 yards as South Carolina also eliminated a psychological scar.

''We started that fourth quarter just two touchdowns ahead. We've been there before,'' Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks were up 23-9, but this time managed to finish the game off. South Carolina has lost three games this season with a two-score lead in the final period.

The key to getting over the hump was quarterback Dylan Thompson and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. Thompson completed a 73-yard pass to Cooper on third-and-10, then two plays later, Cooper took the snap from the wildcat formation and threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Thompson in the corner of the end zone to put the Gamecocks up 30-9 with 10:20 left in the game.

Thompson said he and Cooper have practiced the play more than 150 times, but never ran it in a game until Saturday.

''I beg them to throw it every game,'' Thompson said. ''When I saw it signaled in, it was everything I could do to not go crazy.''

It was Thompson's first touchdown catch of his career. The senior, one of 17 honored at South Carolina's last home game, also was 10-for-17 for 237 yards and a touchdown.

Skai Moore had two interceptions for South Carolina. Brison Williams also had two picks, including a 21-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter that put the Gamecocks ahead 17-6.

Brandon Wilds ran 16 times for 77 yards, while Cooper caught three passes for 95 yards, ran five times for 42 yards and threw the touchdown to Thompson on his only pass.

Elliot Fry kicked three field goals for the Gamecocks, including a career best 47-yarder.

Spurrier said becoming bowl eligible was an especially big deal with fierce in-state rival Clemson next week.

Junior tailback Mike Davis chose to be honored on senior day, but then he fumbled the ball on two of his three touches. Last year's second team all-SEC back didn't play at all in the second half.

South Alabama is in just its sixth season of football and is now 0-3 against the SEC. Jaguars coach Joey Jones said his team had plenty of opportunities, but five turnovers and just four field goals in five trips inside the South Carolina 20 won't cut it against top-level competition.

''When you don't get those things done against a team like that, they start to wear on you,'' Jones said.

Kicker Aleem Sunanon scored all of South Alabama's points, making field goals of 20, 20, 29 and 31 yards.

Hunter Vaughn started at quarterback for South Alabama, but threw four interceptions. Brandon Bridge struggled too, completing just two of his 11 passes for 19 yards. Vaughn was 15 of 23 for 151 yards.

Kendall Houston ran 16 times for 68 yards, while Terrance Timmons ran 17 times for 62 yards for South Alabama. Shavarez Smith caught five passes for the Jaguars for 82 yards.

Smith said there were plenty of chances there for South Alabama, who finish the regular season next week hosting Navy.

''It not very much what they did at all,'' Smith said of South Carolina's defense. ''It was just us as an offense not executing as well as we would like to.''