Pharoh Cooper got his 1,000-yard season. Mike Davis did not.
Cooper, South Carolina’s All-SEC sophomore wide receiver, closed one of the most impressive seasons in Gamecocks history with nine catches for 170 yards in a 24-21 Independence Bowl win against Miami on Saturday. Along the way, he became the fourth South Carolina player with more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season and the first to do it since Alshon Jeffery in 2010.
“Last year, caught three passes,” Cooper said. “I was not coming into this season thinking I was going to be a 1,000-yard receiver. Of course, I wanted to make plays and stuff, but 1,000 yards, no I didn’t see that coming.”
Cooper’s 1,146 yards (on 69 catches) are second-most in school history behind Jeffery’s 1,517 in 2010.
“He’s a playmaker now,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “We all know that.”
Cooper, who had a 78-yard touchdown, was the game’s offensive MVP. His long score tied for the longest catch in South Carolina bowl history.
“If you have seen him play all year, you are going to throw him the ball in big situations,” quarterback Dylan Thompson said. “He’s a playmaker, he works hard. He’s always going to be where he needs to be. He’s a great player.”
Davis, a junior running back who announced this week that he will skip his senior season to enter next year’s NFL draft, entered Saturday’s game 73 yards away from becoming the second South Carolina player with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
He finished with 55 yards on 13 carries, giving him 199 carries for 982 yards this season and 454 carries for 2,440 yards in his career, which is the ninth-best career total in school history.
“It’s been a great three years here,” Davis said. “I have enjoyed Columbia a lot. I will always love my teammates. I had a lot of fun here. I am going to miss my teammates a lot.”
I know you Willie Robertson can remember meeting Spurrier before the Gamecocks landed a spot in the Independence Bowl. The Duck Commander president and CEO wasn’t sure if Spurrier could say the same.
“I know he said he met one of us, but it was actually Larry The Cable Guy,” Robertson said before Saturday’s game. “I’m going to have to have a word with him.”
This is the first year that Duck Commander has been the title sponsor to the bowl game, and the entire Robertson family and “Duck Dynasty” cast were on hand for the event.
Sadie Robertson led a pregame prayer, while Missy Robertson sang the national anthem. The family also assisted with the coin toss, and Willie Robertson presented the bowl trophy and MVP awards afterward.
“It’s good to be a part of this and have our footprint on this,” Willie Robertson said. “We’ve been working on this for months now getting everything together. Whenever you’re hauling around this many family members, logistically it gets kind of interesting.”
Robertson said he saw plenty of South Carolina fans come through the Duck Commander building’s gift shop this week in West Monroe, about 100 miles east of Shreveport. He and Spurrier met before because both USC and Duck Commander have a relationship with Under Armour, he said.
“We’ve met at the horse races,” Robertson said. “I don’t know if he can tell the Duck Dynasty guys apart. At least he should have got it right on Larry The Cable Guy. I thought that was funny.”
Old foes The last time South Carolina and Miami played before Saturday was 1987 in a game that featured a brawl so serious that Gamecocks athletics director Bob Marcum said the Gamecocks would never again schedule the Hurricanes. At times, it looked like Saturday’s game was going to feature more fisticuffs.
The teams pushed and shoved and bickered through most of the first three quarters.
“Two prideful football teams going at it,” South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore said. “Just two teams that love the game and don’t want to lose. Those types of things are going to happen in ball games like this.”
Eventually, each team was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Jordan Diggs was flagged for South Carolina after taunting a Miami player following a tackle. During the postgame news conference, Spurrier blamed the penalty on Jonathan Walton, who was sitting next to him at the podium.
“John Walton had a good game, even though he had a careless penalty after making a tackle, right? … Oh, that was Jordan, my bad,” Spurrier said.
“I couldn’t take the blame for that one,” Walton said.
“My bad Jonathan,” Spurrier replied. “Jonathan had a heck of game.”
For starters A.J. Cann made his 51st start, the second most in school history. Marcquis Roberts and Walton started at linebacker, while Phillips Dukes was in for the injured J.T. Surratt. Cedrick Cooper made the first start of his career at defensive end. Safety Kadetrix Marcus had seven solo tackles in first start of the season. “He played a great game,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.