BY GENE SAPAKOFF AND DARRYL SLATER
TAMPA, Fla. — The best Outback Bowl individual matchup was South Carolina All-World pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney vs. Taylor Lewan, Michigan’s 6-8, 309-pound left tackle.
Lewan, a projected first-round pick bound for the NFL as a junior, won most of the battles; Clowney didn’t have a sack after setting a school record this season with 13.
But Clowney’s enormous hit on Vincent Smith and subsequent fumble recovery in the third quarter set up an Ace Sanders touchdown catch one play later. Clowney finished with four tackles, two for lost yardage.
Lewan briefly left the game with cramps in the third quarter, and shook hands with Clowney on his way off the field.
“It’s one of those things where he and I earned respect for each other,” Lewan said. “I said, ‘You’re the best defensive end I’ve ever played against.’ He looked right back in my eyes and said, ‘You’re the best tackle I’ve ever played against.’ ”
On the play before Clowney’s hit, fourth down and four from Michigan’s 37, the Wolverines attempted a fake punt on which safety Floyd Simmons sprinted toward the sideline and dove at the first-down marker.
He appeared to come just short of the marker, but the officials spotted the ball so that Michigan got a first down by the nose of the ball. The Wolverines were up 22-21 at this point, with 8:22 left in the game. USC coach Steve Spurrier challenged the spot of the ball, but the call stood.
It ended up not mattering, because of Clowney’s hit, but it resulted in Spurrier relaying an amusing anecdote afterward.
Said Spurrier: “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 (the other official) give it to him?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s what he said.”
Redshirt freshman running back Shon Carson saw his first action of the season and caught two passes, one for a 3-yard gain and one for a 2-yard loss.
Carson (5-8, 192) broke a wrist during practice in August, and suffered a torn ACL against Georgia in the second game of the 2011 season. Carson is expected to compete with Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds for running back snaps next season but is not interested in seeking a medical redshirt year; he doubles as a standout baseball prospect (44th-round Major League draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds as an outfielder out of Lake City High School) and plans to play baseball for the Gamecocks this spring.
This and that
Connor Shaw’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd with 13:26 left in the first quarter was USC’s fastest ever score in a bowl game and its fourth-longest passing play of the season. … Shaw’s 64-yard run in the third quarter was the longest run by a USC player this season and the longest of Shaw’s career. … Thompson’s 70-yard pass to Nick Jones in the second quarter was the second-longest completion of the season for USC. … Spurrier is now 3-4 in bowl games — the most bowl wins of any USC coach.