McIlwain starts, defense saves South Carolina in 20-15 win

South Carolina defensive lineman Dante Sawyer (95), Taylor Stallworth (90), and Chris Lammons (3) attempt to recover a fumble by East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
AP

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Freshman Brandon McIlwain got his first start and played the whole game, but it was South Carolina's defense that pushed the Gamecocks to a 20-15 win over East Carolina on Saturday.

South Carolina picked off a pass and recovered a fumble in its own end zone and had another interception at the Gamecocks 1. The Gamecocks (2-1) also blocked a field goal to make a 17-0 lead they sprinted out to in the first seven minutes stick.

Zay Jones caught 22 passes for East Carolina (2-1), setting a school record. He was one reception away from the Football Bowl Subdivision record of 23 receptions.

McIlwain ran for 28 yards and two touchdowns and was 15-for-27 for 193 yards.

East Carolina gained 519 yards to just 312 yards for South Carolina. But the Pirates turned the ball over four times.

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks appear to be ready to make McIlwain their future although he 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.

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks play at Kentucky. It's likely the loser ends up near the bottom of the SEC East.

AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org