COLUMBIA, S.C. _ Freshman quarterback Jake Bentley improved to 3-0 as a starter, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns as South Carolina handed Missouri its 11th straight SEC loss 31-21 on Saturday.
Bentley showed poise, strength and accuracy in the pocket, completing 22 of 28 passes to lead the Gamecocks (5-4, 3-4 SEC) to their third straight victory.
The Gamecocks are in the midst of a rebuilding project with 78 percent of their roster consisting of underclassmen, but appear to be on the right track. Freshman running back Rico Dowdle ran for 149 yards and a touchdown and also hauled in a 17-yard TD strike from Bentley.
Drew Lock threw for 302 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for Missouri (2-7, 0-5).
South Carolina didn’t let down after pulling a 24-21 upset of 18th-ranked Tennessee last week.
With the game tied at 21 late in the third quarter, Rashad Fenton intercepted Lock near the goal line on a deep ball along the right sideline. Bentley led a 98-yard drive, culminating in a go-ahead 20-yard TD run by Dowdle .
Bentley showed poise beyond his years in his third start.
Late in the first half, he took a sack on a second-and-goal at the 1 rather than throw the ball away. Rather than dwelling on the loss, Bentley tossed a 6-yard TD pass to tight end K.C. Crosby on the next play to give the Gamecocks a 21-14 lead at half.
MISSOURI: Missouri will have to bulk up its run defense if it wants to get in the win column in the conference. The Tigers defense wore down late in the game as South Carolina simply pounded away at them with Dowle ripping off huge chunks of yardage.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Bentley looks like the real deal for the Gamecocks, which makes you wonder why they waited so long to play the true freshman. The defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 30 points all season, can hang with anyone.
MISSOURI: The Tigers return home to host Vanderbilt next Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks travel to Florida on Saturday to face the Gators, who have they have beaten in four of the last six meetings.
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer