South Carolina put an exclamation point on the most successful three-year stretch in school history Tuesday.
The No. 11 Gamecocks scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left in the game to beat No. 19 Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl in front of 54, 527 in Raymond James Stadium.
The game featured lead changes in the final 15:02, an iconic play from Jadeveon Clowney and, eventually, another 11-win season for South Carolina.
“We haven’t won one like that since I’ve been here the last eight years,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “Hopefully, that’ll tell us, ‘Hey, we can do that.’ Just hang in there.”
The Gamecocks trailed 22-21 entering the fourth quarter, and the teams traded touchdowns from there with Michigan taking a 28-27 lead on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon with 3:29 left.
South Carolina took the ball at its 30-yard line and quickly converted a fourth-and-3 to keep the drive alive and then moved to the Michigan 43-yard line on an 6-yard pass from Connor Shaw to game MVP Ace Sanders with 39 seconds remaining. Shaw and Sanders both were injured on the play and had to leave the game. Five plays later, Thompson found Ellington sprinting toward the goal line.
“I didn’t see him catch it,” Thompson said. “I threw it, and I got hit. I saw open area and Bruce running so I figured there was a good chance of it getting caught. I was on the ground hurting a little bit, but I heard the crowd.”
It was the Gamecocks’ fourth passing touchdown of the game, two coming from each quarterback.
“It felt like it was in slow motion, but I knew I had to catch it for the seniors and the team,” Ellington said. “Catch it and get in the end zone, that’s what I’m thinking.”
The momentum shifted several times in the second half but never more dramatically than with 8:15 left in the game when the Wolverines converted a fourth-and-4 on a fake punt at their own 41-yard line. Spurrier was furious about where the ball was spotted and challenged the call but lost.
On the next play, Clowney blew through the Michigan offensive line and obliterated Wolverines tailback Vincent Smith, knocking Smith’s helmet 5 yards behind the play and the ball to the turf. When Clowney snatched the ball in the palm of his left hand, the Gamecocks took control at Michigan’s 31-yard line. They scored on the next play on a pass from Shaw to Sanders that put them ahead 27-22.
“It (sounded) like two cars hitting, I promise you,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward of Clowney’s hit. “It was a big bang. That’s the hardest hit I have seen in my coaching career.”
The Gamecocks gained 426 yards and 253 of those came on five plays -- a 70-yard catch by Nick Jones, a 56-yard touchdown catch by Damiere Byrd, a 31-yard touchdown catch by Sanders, a 64-yard run by Shaw and the decisive touchdown from Ellington. Sanders also returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown.
“There are a couple things in football that you don’t want to do. No. 1 you can’t give up big plays,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. “Give them a lot of credit, but at the same time”
South Carolina’s big plays were the difference in the game, Spurrier said.
“Michigan probably outplayed us overall,” he said. “They probably played a little bit better overall, but we were able to score points.”
The win earned South Carolina an 11-2 record identical to last season’s mark. They last two years are the only double-digit win seasons in school history. The Gamecocks have won 31 games in the last three seasons and their seniors leave as the winningest class in school history with 38 victories.
“We hit eight of our 10 goals. That’s very good for our guys,” Spurrier said. “Pretty good years but not as good as it could be. It could be better.”
USC: Byrd 56 pass from C.Shaw (Yates kick), 13:26.
Mich: FG Gibbons 39, 7:28.
USC: Sanders 63 punt return (Yates kick), 3:29.
Mich: Dileo 5 pass from Gardner (Gibbons kick), 12:41.
USC: Sanders 4 pass from Thompson (Yates kick), 10:54.
Mich: FG Gibbons 40, 2:47.
Mich: FG Wile 52, 6:54.
Mich: Gallon 10 pass from Gardner (pass failed), :02.
USC: Sanders 31 pass from C.Shaw (pass failed), 8:06.
Mich: Gallon 17 pass from Gardner (run failed), 3:29.
USC: Ellington 32 pass from Thompson (pass failed), :11.
|Time of Possession||22:01||37:59|
RUSHING: South Carolina, C.Shaw 10-96, Miles 5-1, Thompson 2-(minus 12). Michigan, D.Robinson 23-100, Gardner 12-24, Dileo 1-7, Smith 6-6, Simmons 1-4, Hayes 2-0.
PASSING: South Carolina, C.Shaw 18-26-0-224, Thompson 7-10-0-117. Michigan, Gardner 18-36-1-214, D.Robinson 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Sanders 9-92, Miles 4-22, Jones 3-78, Byrd 2-63, Ellington 2-36, Carson 2-1, Cunningham 1-37, Anderson 1-7, M.Davis 1-5. Michigan, Gallon 9-145, Roundtree 3-27, Dileo 3-22, Smith 1-9, D.Robinson 1-7, Funchess 1-4.