Connor Shaw has fitting ending to career in Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin
ORLANDO, Fla. - Before Connor Shaw's college career ended Wednesday afternoon at the Capital One Bowl, the senior quarterback had one more item on his wish list.
Shaw, a part-time high school receiver, had never caught a pass with the Gamecocks. It was a silly request, he knew. His career would be complete without a reception. Still, the void tugged on him.
"I wanted a receiving touchdown," Shaw said.
At a team breakfast Wednesday morning, coach Steve Spurrier shared the good news. He would call a play - a reverse quarterback pass - for Shaw in the red zone. When the time came in the second quarter, it worked perfectly.
Shaw's 9-yard touchdown catch from receiver Bruce Ellington was one of five scores in his final game. He contributed to every touchdown in No. 8 South Carolina's 34-24 win over No. 19 Wisconsin before a crowd of 56,629 at Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
It was the Gamecocks' (11-2) third straight bowl victory over a Big Ten opponent, and their third straight 11-win season. For the Badgers (9-4), it was their fourth straight bowl loss.
It was also the storybook ending to Shaw's career - passing, receiving and rushing for a touchdown on his way to being named the Capital One Bowl MVP. Shaw completed 22-of-25 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He iced the game with a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
For the Gamecocks' all-time winningest quarterback, that 9-yard touchdown catch felt awfully sweet.
"We've had that play in for about three years, but we don't put it in every game," Spurrier said. "We were at breakfast today, and I told Connor we were going to throw the one back to you. We had another one with Bruce coming around and the tight end sneaking out in the corner or something like that. I said, 'Throw the one back to the quarterbacks.'"
Offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott wanted Ellington to throw to the tight end. Knowing Shaw wanted a receiving touchdown, Spurrier put his foot down.
"I told him, 'We were going to throw it to Connor first. So we are going to throw it to Connor,'" Spurrier said. "I don't listen to Coach Elliott all the time. . Bruce threw a good ball. Connor had a good little acting job. He hands it off and acts like he's not going anywhere. The guy hesitated just a moment, and we were able to break behind him."
It was fitting Shaw caught the pass from Ellington. While the quarterback received accolades - as quarterbacks are wont to do - Ellington had the best game of his career.
The junior receiver caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. With each reception, the degree of difficulty seemed to climb. These weren't screen passes or simple button hooks. They were oohs and aahs.
At one point, on a critical fourth down in the third quarter, Wisconsin's secondary blanketed Ellington as he ran downfield. It didn't matter. He tipped the pass in midair with one hand, ran under the deflection and kept a touchdown drive alive.
"Bruce had a heck of a game," Spurrier said. "Makes more big plays as receiver, I think, than almost any other receiver I've coached out of 25 years or so. He came down with a big catch when we need it."
South Carolina's victory signified the end of an era. While the Gamecocks are young and should be very good next year, they'll lose two All-Americans on the defensive line. Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles will leave school early to pursue the NFL Draft.
Then, there's the quarterback.
Shaw wasn't always a fan favorite. At times in his career, he split snaps with backup Dylan Thompson. There has been criticism, justified or not.
At the end Wednesday, after a five-touchdown performance in his final college game, Spurrier reserved some of his highest praise for South Carolina's MVP.
"I've had a lot of good ones, and Connor is right there among the best. No question about it," Spurrier said. "We've won a bunch of games, 33-6 now in the last three years. And to finish like this, even all my years at Florida we never finished like this. Of course, we had to play FSU last game every year in the bowl games, but to win the last six in a row I guess the last two years and in other years maybe four or five in a row has been special.
"It's because of guys like Connor. Connor can take care of the ball and make plays when the game's on the line, and the game was on the line a whole bunch of plays today."