COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina junior quarterback Jake Bentley chatted with one of his favorite targets, receiver Deebo Samuel, who was honored on senior night and reflected on how much he'd miss playing for the Gamecocks.
"I told him in winning this game," Bentley said, "we'd have a little bit more time together."
Bentley passed for 339 yards and tied his collegiate career best with four touchdowns as the Gamecocks became bowl eligible with a 49-9 victory Saturday night over the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
A.J. Turner, a junior with eight career touchdowns entering the game, accounted for three more for the Southeastern Conference's Gamecocks (6-4) against the Mocs (6-5) of the Football Championship Subdivision's Southern Conference.
"It's not about the touchdowns," Turner said, "it's about us being able to play together."
The win was an important one for the Gamecocks, whose time to make the postseason was running out.
South Carolina's next game is this Saturday at in-state rival Clemson, and the Gamecocks will be heavy underdogs against the second-ranked Tigers (11-0). Without the win against UTC, the Gamecocks' postseason hopes would have rested on a makeup contest with Akron scheduled for Dec. 1.
"We've been through adversity this year," Bentley said. "It's great to know we've got some postseason ball ahead of us."
The Gamecocks, who fell to FCS opponent The Citadel from Charleston three years ago at home, didn't want to mess around with the Mocs. Bentley and Turner made sure their team started fast, generating touchdowns on their first three possessions.
Bentley was 5-of-6 passing on South Carolina's opening possession, including a 16-yard touchdown throw to Turner. He was at it again the next time he got the ball with a 12-play drive that ended with a 6-yard scoring toss to Turner, who was front and center on the next drive, finishing the series with an 11-yard scoring run.
Turner had only one touchdown in eight games this season before breaking out big against UTC in the opening half.
Bentley, who finished 25-of-29 passing, didn't stop after the break while adding scoring throws of 53 yards to Shi Smith and 61 yards to Samuel.
Bentley tied his career high of four touchdowns, first accomplished in a win over Coastal Carolina in September. Samuel finished with five catches for 112 yards, his second straight game with more than 100 receiving yards.
UTC was overmatched from the start. The Mocs had a field goal and an extra-point kick blocked. They were just 1-for-8 on third-down tries in the opening half.
The visitors' lone touchdown came when sophomore receiver Bryce Nunnelly threw a 2-yard scoring pass to wide-open quarterback Nick Tiano with less than five minutes left in the game.
The Mocs were in the thick of the SoCon race the first two months of the season but fell to 0-3 in November with this loss.
After making the FCS playoffs for three straight seasons through 2016, the Mocs have gone 9-13 the past two seasons under coach Tom Arth. The team doubled its win total from Arth's first season but struggled down the stretch after thriving late last year.
Arth was pleased with his team's effort against the Gamecocks, though.
"I thought we left some plays out there," he said. "That's the hard part."
Beating an FCS team does not make all OK for the Gamecocks, but it does take some of the sting out of their fourth-quarter collapse at Florida a week earlier. Most importantly, the victory gives South Carolina a December of bowl practices, which it certainly needs to shore up its defense, which ranked 12th in the SEC coming into the game.
The Gamecocks head to Clemson trying to snap a four-game losing streak in the series, and they've been outscored 162-66 in that stretch. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said his team understands it needs to pick things up against its biggest rival.
"There's always a chip on your shoulder in the rivalry," South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson said. "But you have to prepare the same way as always."