No. 11 South Carolina 33, No. 19 Michigan 28
Steve Spurrier’s plan to use two quarterbacks in the Outback Bowl worked so well that Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw both earned game balls.
That’s a first for the Head Ball Coach, who has a well-known penchant for benching struggling QBs. Except in this case, the Gamecocks’ winningest coach used his talented pair of passers by design.
Shaw began Tuesday’s 33-28 victory over Michigan with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd. Thompson closed it out by throwing a 32-yard TD strike to Bruce Ellington in the final minute to help South Carolina match the school record for victories in a season.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever given two quarterbacks a game ball, but today I said: ‘Hey, we’ve got to give them to both you guys,’ ” Spurrier said.
“Both those young men are just so super team-oriented. There’s no jealousy, nothing. ... Those guys are just really, really good teammates. Wonderful team players,” the coach added. “We tried to tell Connor: ‘It’s your game.’ And it was his game, but Dylan was going to play. He understood that. It worked beautifully as it turned out.”
Thompson replaced Shaw during the winning drive, covering the final 43 yards after Shaw began the march from his own 30 and kept it alive with a 6-yard completion to Ace Sanders on a fourth-and-3 play. Devin Gardner’s third TD pass of the game had given Michigan a 28-27 lead.
“I wasn’t nervous. I knew I had great guys around me, and I trusted them and just was confident,” Thompson said.
Shaw threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns after missing the Gamecocks’ regular-season finale with a left foot sprain. Thompson led the Gamecocks (11-2) to a victory at archrival Clemson, and threw for 117 yards and two TDs in the bowl game.
Gardner threw for 214 yards in his fifth start for Michigan (8-5) since Denard Robinson injured his right elbow late in the season. Robinson took some snaps at quarterback and even attempted his first passes in a game since Oct. 27, but lined up mostly at running back and rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries.
Sanders caught TD passes of 4 yards from Thompson and 31 yards from Shaw, who completed 18-of-26 passes before aggravating his foot injury and limping off during the final drive. The speedy receiver had nine catches for 92 yards and also scored on a 63-yard punt return — one of four plays over 50 yards yielded by Michigan.
Gardner was 18-of-36, including TD passes of 5 yards to Drew Dileo and 10 and 17 yards to Jeremy Gallon, who gave Michigan its late lead and finished with career bests of nine receptions and 145 yards. Robinson set the NCAA record for career yards rushing by a quarterback, hiking his four-year total to 4,495 — 15 more than West Virginia’s Pat White ran for from 2005-08.
“I’d rather win the game,” said Robinson, who attempted two passes in the third quarter, both incompletions, and also ran twice on plays in which he took the snap as the quarterback — a role he’s embraced since being injured during a loss to Nebraska.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was quiet for much of the day, but shifted momentum in the fourth quarter with a big hit on Vincent Smith that sent the running back’s helmet rolling several yards backward and caused a fumble that the SEC defensive player of the year recovered to set up Shaw’s TD pass to Sanders for a 27-22 lead.
The TD capped a three-play sequence that began with Michigan running its second fake punt of the game, gaining 4 yards to the Wolverines 41 for what was ruled a first down, despite not appearing to be one when the officials called for a measurement. South Carolina challenged the spot, but the ruling on the field was upheld.
Clowney then slammed into Smith just as the Michigan runner was taking the handoff from Gardner, jarring the ball loose.
“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 did he give it to them?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Spurrier said.
“Clowney knocked the ball out the next play, so I’m glad they gave it to them. ... We gained about 10 or 15 yards.”
Robinson was injured during the first half of Michigan’s two-touchdown loss to Nebraska on Oct. 27. He missed the rest of that game, as well the next two against Minnesota and Northwestern before returning the final two weeks of the regular season to contribute in ways that didn’t require him to throw the ball.
The 6-foot, 197-pound native of Deerfield Beach, Fla., entered the game during Michigan’s second possession and ran for 15 yards on his first play. Gardner threw 26 yards to Gallon, moving the Wolverines into position for Brendan Gibbons to kick a 39-yard field goal.
Down 14-3 after Sanders’ punt return, Michigan marched 75 yards in 11 plays to trim South Carolina’s lead to four, with Robinson carrying four times for 20 yards along the way. Gardner finished the drive by flipping his touchdown pass to Dileo early in the second quarter.
Michigan began the day ranked second in the nation in pass defense, allowing 155 yards per game. South Carolina matched that in the opening half alone, with most of the yardage coming on Shaw’s long TD throw to Byrd and Thompson’s 70-yard completion to Jones that led to Sanders’ second TD for a 21-10 lead.
The Wolverines turned South Carolina’s only turnover into Gibbons’ 40-yard field goal in the second quarter, and Matt Wile’s Outback Bowl-record 52-yard field goal trimmed Michigan’s deficit to 21-16.
South Carolina ended on a five-game winning streak that followed consecutive losses to LSU and Florida. The Gamecocks also won 11 games last season.
Capitol One Bowl
No. 6 Georgia 45, No. 23 Nebraska 31
Aaron Murray wanted nothing more this week than to send Georgia’s senior class out with a game to remember.
The junior quarterback provided a record-setting performance to make it a reality.
Murray threw five touchdown passes to set a Georgia bowl record, including two in the fourth quarter, as the Bulldogs beat Nebraska in Orlando, Fla.
Murray shook off a pair of first-half interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and passed for 427 yards — also a Bulldogs’ bowl record — against the nation’s top-ranked passing defense. He was the game’s most valuable player on the way to earning his first bowl victory at Georgia.
Georgia (12-2) also reached 12 wins for the third time in school history.
“I don’t know what it’s like to head into an offseason with a win,” Murray said. “It’s a great feeling to get a win. To get 12 wins ... That’s something special.”
Nebraska (10-4) lost its third consecutive bowl game, and finished the season with two consecutive woeful defensive performances. The Cornhuskers lost the Big Ten championship game 70-31.
The Cornhuskers led 24-23 at the half, but committed two of their three turnovers in the final 30 minutes.
Taylor Martinez had two interceptions and two touchdown passes for Nebraska and Rex Burkhead rushed 140 yards in his final college game.
But Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the efficiency of Murray and Georgia on third down (finished 12 for 17) was too much to overcome.
“I thought the plan was good,” Pelini said of his team’s defensive scheme. “Third down hurt us, obviously. When we’re in position, it was man on man down the field. We needed to make some of those plays and we didn’t. And, you know, again, that cost us a football game.”
Nebraska’s offense finished with 443 total yards, but the Bulldogs’ defense was stingy when it needed to be.
They sacked Martinez five times, with junior All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones notching two. Damian Swann had both Georgia interceptions.
Murray found Keith Marshall free near the sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave Georgia a 38-31 lead with 14:52 to play in the game.
Following a Nebraska punt, Murray then hit Chris Conley for a short pass in space over the middle. Conley outran the Cornhuskers defenders for an 87-yard score.
That play came after a 49-yard touchdown catch by Conley that helped Georgia tie the game in the third quarter.
Nebraska clung to a 24-23 lead at the half, taking back the advantage late in the second quarter via a 16-yard strike from Martinez to Burkhead.
No. 21 Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20
Behind huge interceptions early and late, Northwestern beat Mississippi State in Jacksonville, Fla., and snapped college football’s longest postseason losing streak. The Wildcats (10-3) hadn’t won a bowl game since 1949, a nine-game skid that was tied with Notre Dame for the longest in NCAA history.
It’s history now. And as a reward, coach Pat Fitzgerald let his players rip the team’s symbolic stuffed monkey to shreds in the locker room.
“We’ve never been here before, but now we’re here and here to stay with a new streak you can talk about in a positive fashion,” Fitzgerald said.
Quentin Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game and Nick VanHoose set up another touchdown with a 39-yard interception return in the fourth. Those plays were the difference in a back-and-forth game that featured more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).
In between, Northwestern’s two-quarterback system kept the Bulldogs (8-5) off balance most of the day.
Scrambler Kain Colter ran for 71 yards, making up for his two interceptions. Backup Trevor Siemian threw for 120 yards and an interception, and also ran for a score.
Even with the turnovers, they were more efficient than Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell.
Russell completed 12-of-28 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He had only thrown six picks in the first 11 games this season.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Clint Chelf threw three of Oklahoma State’s five touchdown passes and the Cowboys shook off a disappointing Big 12 finish by dominating Purdue in Dallas.
The Cowboys, a year removed from a Fiesta Bowl win that capped the best season in school history, forced five turnovers and had another short touchdown drive after a 64-yard punt return from Josh Stewart.
It was the biggest bowl win for Oklahoma State (8-5) since coach Mike Gundy was the quarterback in a 62-14 rout of Wyoming in the 1988 Holiday Bowl.
Robert Mavre didn’t get to 100 yards passing until Oklahoma State led 45-0 as the Boilermakers (6-7) fell to 0-4 on New Year’s Day.