COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Deebo Samuel figured out another way to score a touchdown as he wrapped up his injury-cursed career at South Carolina in a rainy, messy makeup game.
Samuel recovered a bad snap on a punt in the end zone and caught two touchdown passes as the Gamecocks (7-5) beat Akron 28-3 on Saturday.
South Carolina was playing a low-stakes game on a wet, cold December afternoon to make up for one canceled by Hurricane Florence against the Zips (4-8), whose opener at Nebraska was cancelled by thunderstorms.
It was sloppy. South Carolina had four turnovers — two of them red zone interceptions by Jake Bentley — and Akron had six fumbles, losing three of them. In 17 second-half drives, 10 ended in punts, four ended on downs, two ended in lost fumbles and the last one ended at the final gun.
"We didn't play well in the second half," Bentley said. "I'm disappointed."
Bentley was 14 of 27 for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Mon Denson ran 17 times for 110 yards and Bryan Edwards caught five passes for 109 yards and a TD for South Carolina.
Samuel put this game away on his own. His fumble recovery on a high snap on an Akron punt put the Gamecocks up 21-3 and his 5-yard TD catch with 1:33 to go in the second quarter put South Carolina ahead 28-3. Samuel has 16 TDs receiving, seven rushing, four on kick returns and one on a fumble recovery in his career. He also has thrown two passes in college — both for touchdowns
"I just go out there and do what they ask me to do," the senior said.
Samuel missed games his freshman year with hamstring problems and broke his leg in his third game of 2017 after scoring six touchdowns.
"When he's been on the field, he's been as electric player as you will see in college football," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
When the Gamecocks and Zips originally agreed to play this one Nov. 2, there was a good chance both teams would be playing for bowl eligibility. But South Carolina pulled off a Southeastern Conference win over Ole Miss and Football Championship Subdivision Chattanooga to get to six wins and Akron lost its last three to stay stuck at four victories.
The announced attendance was 53,420 people — the actual crowd was much smaller — and it was the lowest attendance for a South Carolina game since 52,400 were counted in October 1991 when Louisiana Tech came to town.
"I appreciate the fans who did come," Bentley said. "We could definitely hear them."
Kato Nelson was 19 for 39 for 178 yards. Kwad Smith caught six passes for 69 yards for the Zips. Nick Gasser's 45-yard field goal gave Akron its only points.
The Zips were going after their second Power Five win. Akron beat Big Ten West Division champion Northwestern 39-34 on Sept. 15.
Akron: For the Zips, the biggest one might be a nice $1.3 million check for filling this hole in South Carolina's schedule. Akron has never beaten a team from the Southeastern Conference in six tries. The Zips failed to win at least five games for the first time since going 1-11 in Terry Bowden's first season in 2012.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have been haunted by injuries this season — at least 15 players were out hurt Saturday — and couldn't get through this one unscathed either. Offensive lineman Zach Bailey was carted off on the last play of the third quarter with a broken leg and will miss the bowl game. The Gamecocks have now beaten three Bowdens — Bobby at Florida State, Tommy at Clemson and Terry now at Akron. Terry Bowden was 2-0 against South Carolina at Auburn.
VICTORY IN DEFEAT
Akron coach Terry Bowden said he was quite proud his team held South Carolina scoreless in the second half even when they didn't score at all.
"You want to make sure you set the right stage as far as an attitude for next season" Bowden said.
Bowden played a number of young players Saturday, including freshman running back Keyondre White who ran 13 times for 56 yards.
Muschamp's 22 wins in three seasons is now the best start to a career at South Carolina, eclipsing Steve Spurrier's 21-win start.
And Muschamp said even though this team couldn't replicate the nine wins from last season, he thinks they had bad breaks with injuries and a few bad bounces.
"We're in a much better place. Absolutely," Muschamp said.
Akron: The Zips season is over.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks await their bowl destination on Sunday. The most likely spots are the Gator Bowl against a Big Ten team or the Belk Bowl against someone from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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