The last time Dylan Thompson threw a game-winning touchdown pass, he beat Spartanburg High School. Tuesday, he beat the winningest program in college football history with a 32-yard pass to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds remaining that lifted South Carolina over Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl.
“Similar but there was a little more time left (the last time),” Thompson said. “This is a little bigger stage, I guess.”
Thompson didn’t start the game or what turned out to be the game-winning drive. He was thrown into the action five plays before the touchdown pass when starter Connor Shaw injured his foot. Thompson already had thrown six passes, including a 70-yard pass, earlier in the game, and he was prepared to re-enter at a moment’s notice because of the lingering nature of Shaw’s foot injury, he said.
“Like I have said all year, I honestly, truly put my full faith in God and I know that whether I make a huge play or a terrible play that he loves me like he loves everyone here,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t nervous. I knew that I had great guys around me, and I trusted them.”
Tuesday was the first time South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has had to change quarterbacks during a game-winning drive, he said.
Shaw “sort of hobbled off, and Dylan was right there on call,” Spurrier said. “He threw it down there and Bruce ran right into it.”
Thompson and Ellington both saw the decisive play open up before the snap when Michigan’s safety moved toward the line of scrimmage.
“Coach Spurrier drills in our mind take our steps and throw the ball,” Thompson said. “I liked the matchup I had with Bruce on the safety, just threw it out there and he made a heck of a play.”
Thompson finished 7-of-10 passing for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Shaw, who did not speak to the media after the game, finished 18-of-26 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Both quarterbacks got game balls after the win.
The win wasn’t enough to erase all of Steve Spurrier’s frustration about a fourth quarter spot by the officials. Spurrier thought South Carolina had stopped Michigan short on a fake punt on fourth-and-4 midway through the fourth quarter. The television replay appeared to show the ball was just short of the post holding the first down chain.
“I asked one of those other refs there, I said, ‘You know the ball did not touch the first down marker.’ He said, ‘I know it didn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why’d he give it to them?’ He said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Spurrier said. “That’s what he said. We thought (when the referee signaled first down) he was pointing the wrong way. We thought he meant that way. He wasn’t going to change his mind, though.”
Safety D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Shaq Wilson led South Carolina with nine tackles each in their final collegiate games. Swearinger added two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
“D.J. has been a great leader for us on defense,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We talked before the game and told him, ‘It’s going to be a four-quarter game, go lay it on the line.’ I am so proud of D.J. He had a great season, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
The Wolverines gained 355 yards.
“They came out throwing the football more than I anticipated them doing,” Ward said.
Vic Hampton, Kelcy Quarles and Aldrick Fordham each had a sack.
Bad day for backs
The teams combined for 295 yards rushing but only seven of those came from running backs. Shaw led South Carolina in rushing with 96 yards, and quarterback/running back/wide receiver Denard Robinson led Michigan with 100 yards on the ground.
Senior Kenny Miles was the only running back to get a carry for South Carolina. He finished with five carries for 1 yard.
Freshman running back Shon Carson, who missed the regular season due to a wrist injury, was the second-team tailback. He caught two passes for 1 yard.
Freshman Mike Davis had one catch for 5 yards.
The Gamecock players were surprised Tuesday with black Under Armour undershirts with a gray Batman logo on the chest. Asked the significance of the logo, place-kicker Adam Yates said, “I have no idea. They just gave them to us this morning. I like them, though.”
“They didn’t have a cape in my size,” Yates said.
About 90 percent of the players wore the undershirts. Shaw stuck with his gray undershirt that has sewn in pockets that hold rib pads.
The crowd of 54,527 fell more than 10,000 short of the capacity at Raymond James Stadium, and the fans appeared split evenly between Gamecocks and Wolverines. South Carolina sold 9,200 of its official allotment of 12,000. According to the bowl contract, South Carolina is responsible for paying for the 2,800 unsold tickets.
... Shaw’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd on the third play of the game was the fastest score in South Carolina bowl history.
... The Gamecocks are now 6-12 in bowl games. Coach Steve Spurrier is 3-4 in bowls at South Carolina.
... Nick Jones’ 70-yard catch was the longest of his career.
... Shaw’s 64-yard run was a career long.