FINAL: South Carolina 20, ECU 15 – Pirates lose despite record-performance by Jones

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina ‘s defense accepted coach Will Muschamp’s challenge and his freshman quarterback made his coach’s decision to start him look good as the Gamecocks beat East Carolina 20-15 on Saturday.

After last week’s loss, Muschamp said he had to find players who could tackle. His defense did him even better, picking off a pass and recovering a fumble in its own end zone and had another interception at the Gamecocks 1. The Pirates only scored on two of six trips into the red zone and didn’t have a play longer than 28 yards.

All that was enough to take the pressure off Brandon McIlwain in his first start. It won’t be his last. Muschamp is turning the Gamecocks (2-1) over to the freshman.

“He’s got a lot of poise about him,” said Muschamp, who decided it was McIlwain’s time after the Gamecocks offense looked listless in a 27-14 loss to Mississippi State last week. “He’s got a lot of the ‘it’ factor you look for at that position.”

McIlwain ran for 34 yards and two touchdowns and was 16-for-28 for 195 yards passing.

And don’t go telling Muschamp how East Carolina (2-1) gained 519 yards to South Carolina’s 312 yards or how Zay Jones caught 22 passes for the Pirates, setting a school record and finishing just one reception away from the Football Bowl Subdivision record.

“I don’t look at the stat sheet and see how many yards they have. I only care about the score,” said Muschamp, emphasizing what he thought were even more important statistics for Jones – the senior had 190 yards receiving and his longest catch was for 15 yards.

The Pirates turned the ball over four times and, after committing just seven penalties in their first two games, committed eight penalties Saturday.

“What I saw in this game is too many penalties. What I saw was too many turnovers. I saw a team that outgained another and a defense that outplayed the other defense. We didn’t pull it through at the end,” East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery said.

THE TAKEAWAY

EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates have no one to blame but themselves. They allowed a South Carolina team that hadn’t scored a point in the first half in its first two games to jump to a 17-0 lead after an 80-yard kickoff return by A.J. Turner to set up the game-opening score and an 84-yard drive on the Gamecocks’ second possession. Philip Nelson was 44-for-58 for 400 yards, but South Carolina had four sacks as he sometimes stayed in the pocket too long.

“We don’t look at moral victories. We’re going back to work,” said Montgomery, hired at the end of last season.

SOUTH CAROLINA: McIlwain looked like a freshman at times with several underthrows and overthrows. But he put two passes in just the right spots on a key fourth-quarter drive that ended with a 39-yard field goal from Elliot Fry – South Carolina’s only points in the final 52 minutes of the game. The freshman also made a key choice, pitching to David Williams on a fourth-and-1 option that sealed the win.

Muschamp isn’t letting his freshman quarterback talk to the media, so we don’t know what he thought about his big day.

ZAY’S BIG DAY

East Carolina lined Jones up all over the field and he got open wherever he was. But after the game, he said he had no idea how many catches he had or how close to the record he was. Instead, he couldn’t believe all the chances his team blew.

“It hurts to put great drives together and you get to where the money is and you can’t cash it in,” Jones said.

Jones came into the game needing 130 catches to break East Carolina’s career record held by Justin Hardy. That seems more likely to be obtainable after Saturday’s performance.

UP NEXT

EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates finish a run of three straight games against Power 5 opponents by traveling to Virginia Tech. East Carolina has beaten the Hokies the past two years and Montgomery expects his team to shake off this loss quickly.

“We don’t look at moral victories. We’re going back to work,” said Montgomery, hired at the end of last season.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks play at Kentucky. It’s likely the loser ends up near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
PREVIOUS STORY:

It’s the first road game of the year for East Carolina.

The Pirates (2-0) are looking for their first 3-0 start to a season since 1999.

The meeting against the Gamecocks out of the Southeastern Conference marks the second of three-straight Power-5 matchups for ECU.

South Carolina (1-1) has won three-straight against the Pirates and leadS the overall series 13-5.

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