TAMPA, Fla. – In one of the most dramatic games in school history, South Carolina used a 32-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left to beat Michigan 33-28 in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
Thompson was in because Connor Shaw limped off earlier in the drive. South Carolina took over at its own 30 after Michigan scored a touchdown with 3:29 left to go up 28-27.
Shaw kept the drive alive by hitting Ace Sanders for a six-yard completion on fourth down and three, which moved the No. 11 Gamecocks to their own 43. In beating the No. 19 Wolverines (8-5), the Gamecocks match their program-best 11-2 record from last season.
South Carolina’s All-American defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, had been quiet for much of the day. That is until 8:10 remained in the game. He burst into the backfield and, in one remarkable instant, nailed running back Vincent Smith, popped Smith’s helmet off his head and the ball out of his hands, and snatched the ball.
South Carolina took over at Michigan’s 31, and Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier took a shot at the end zone, as he is wont to do after turnovers. Ace Sanders caught the ball in the back of the end zone and the Gamecocks led 27-22 with 8:06 left, after a failed two-point conversion.
As it did most of the day, Michigan responded on its ensuing drive, by marching 64 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon with 3:29 left. Michigan led 28-27 after its two-point conversion attempt failed.
Michigan surged to begin the second half, getting a field goal and a touchdown on back-to-back third quarter drives to take a 22-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
South Carolina botched an excellent opportunity on its first drive of the second half. The Gamecocks had first down and 10 at Michigan’s 11, but had to settle for a 33-yard field goal attempt, which Adam Yates missed. Michigan then drove 45 yards and got a 52-yard field goal from Matt Wile to cut South Carolina’s lead to 21-16.
After South Carolina turned the ball over on downs, Michigan marched 65 yards and used a 10-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon to take a 22-21 lead with two seconds left in the third quarter. Michigan’s two-point conversion attempt failed.
Spurrier elected to attempt a 42-yard field goal with 9:58 left in the game rather than trying to convert a fourth down and six. Quentin Washington burst into the backfield and blocked the kick, sustaining the Wolverines’ 22-21 lead.
The game’s first drive was an appropriate start to a first half full of big plays. On the third play, Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a 56-yard touchdown pass, on a ball that Byrd caught in the shadow of the end zone.
Michigan answered on its second drive with a 39-yard field goal that cut South Carolina’s lead to 7-3 with 7:28 left in the first quarter.
The Gamecocks countered with Sanders’ second punt return for a touchdown of the season and third in the past two seasons – a 63-yarder with 3:29 left in the first quarter, after a nice 54-yard punt by Michigan.
Michigan punched right back on its next drive by marching 76 yards in 11 plays for a five-yard touchdown pass by Gardner to Drew Dileo with 12:41 remaining in the second quarter.
South Carolina’s ensuing possession featured the first appearance of quarterback Dylan Thompson. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he would play at some point in the first half. Thompson led the Gamecocks to a win at Clemson in the regular season finale because Shaw was nursing a sprained left foot.
On Tuesday, he needed just four plays, including a 70-yard pass to Nick Jones that put USC at Michigan’s 4, to extend the Gamecocks’ lead to 21-10. It came courtesy of a four-yard pass to Sanders with 10:54 left in the first half.
The Gamecocks’ next drive didn’t go as well. On the second play, tailback Kenny Miles fumbled, giving Michigan the ball at South Carolina’s 31. Michigan converted the field position into a 40-yard field goal with 2:47 left in the half that cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 21-13.
NOTES: Gardner started the game, as Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he would. But quarterback Denard Robinson got in early and played running back, as expected. He had 10 carries for 48 yards in the first half. … Entering Tuesday, the combined record of the teams South Carolina and Michigan lost to this season was 67-7. The Gamecocks lost to 10-2 LSU and 11-1 Florida. The Wolverines lost to 12-1 Alabama, 12-0 Notre Dame, 10-3 Nebraska and 12-0 Ohio State. … South Carolina was playing in its fourth Outback Bowl and was 2-1 in the game entering Tuesday. Michigan was playing in its fifth Outback Bowl and was 3-1.